ExtremismResearch Suggests Racism Could Be a Genetic Trait

Published 8 August 2020

Despite increased information and knowledge, racism is still a powerful force around the world. How can racist attitudes and practices have survived so many generations? A new study argues that beliefs that some groups are superior to others are deeply influenced by genetics.

The death of U.S. citizen George Floyd caused demonstrations all over the world. Still, police violence against vulnerable groups and minorities is nothing new. How can racist attitudes and practices have survived so many generations?

According to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS), beliefs that some groups are superior to others are deeply influenced by genetics.

Racist Genes
The researchers looked into why some attitudes tend to appear simultaneously. This may for example apply to the perception of some groups being better than others, or to the perception that certain ethnic and cultural groups are more capable of making decisions in society.

Previous research has suggested that such opinions often appear together, and that the environment only rarely shapes them.

Could it be that we are born with predispositions to certain political opinions? According to the findings, the answer is yes.

People who share the same sets of attitudes also appear to share the same genes,” said Thomas Haarklau Kleppestø, PhD fellow at the Department of Psychology, University of Oslo.

Political Attitudes
Around 2.000 adult Norwegian twins, identical and non-identical, answered a questionnaire to measure their social dominance orientation (SDO), a personality trait where a high score indicates a preference of a societal hierarchy.

Former research has liked this trait to political attitudes. A high score increases the possibility for support to items such as “Some groups of people must be kept in their place”, and “Some groups of people are inferior to other groups”. 

The participants were to state their opinions on eight political proposals, such as strict immigration control and deportation of Romani people. Former research has found these proposals to correlate with SDO.

Wrote Similar Compositions
The researchers reasoned as follows: If the political opinions of identical twins were more alike than among non-identical, the reason would be genetic. Identical twins share 100 percent of their genes, while non-identical share 50 percent.

Therese Lillefosse (41), the identical twin sister of Kathrine Lillefosse, does believe that identical twins often share a common mind-set.

“In upper secondary school we made the same mistakes on our tests. On one occasion, the essays we wrote were identical to the extent of our teacher suspecting we had cheated,” she said.

The sisters did not participate in Kleppestø’s study, but how would they answer if asked the same questions in separate interviews?

First, eighteen questions about social dominance orientation reveal that Kathrine and Therese share similar thoughts on this matter. None of them