Another lecture in London

Your biases are embedded in your genes!


At least that is the theory of Dr Lee De-Wit, teaching fellow in Psychology at University College London.  His work is topical.  Take Brexit for example.  Those who want to Remain are just different from those who want to Leave.  Not just in their views, their grasp on the reality and their misunderstanding of the consequences, but also in personality and perhaps even in their genetic make-up.

Dr De-Wit is studying the Psychology of Bias, and Politics in particular.  I agree that our psychological make-up will influence our politics.  But De-Wit goes further.  His research has indicated a polychronic correlation between your gene pool and your politics.  If this is true does it mean we can’t teach people to change their biases?  After an hour lecture I still didn’t believe it, or is that my bias at work?

De-Wit believes that we are primed to lean one way or another, even at birth.  But to say this leaning is genetic seems like a leap of faith to me.  When we come out of the womb we are, to a large extent, a blank sheet of paper onto which our key influencers etch our beliefs for us.  We then construct our own reality and hold onto this for life.  (I simplify things but Eric Berne of Transactional Analysis fame, would broadly agree as this is his theory of human psyche.)  So our biases – for gender, culture, politics, etc – result from exposure to different view points.  However, I am very open to new ideas, so let’s hear out Dr De-Wit, because the Psychology of Bias helps us to understand how communicate with people of different leaning, regardless of its lineage.

Scenario: You are a leader leaning to the Right and you want to influence a Left leaning voter.  What do you focus on?  Data says you should focus on fairness and place your argument in the wider context.  By contrast the Right leaning voter is more interested in loyalty and authority, and holds true that each individual has control of their own destiny.

De-Wit gave two examples of this in action.  Barack Obama upset many people when he said, “If you’ve got your own business, you didn’t do that”.  The Right wing voters shouted back, “Oh yes I did”, ignoring the wider context of all the advantages that got them there – their upbringing, their education, their early adopters and so on.  Tony Blair, on the other hand, got it spot on when he said, “Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”.  Blair appealed to the Right with his authority in the first part of the sentence and pleased the Left in the second part by putting crime in the wider context of influence and influences.

So now it’s time to test your leaning.  Ask yourself these two questions.  Your first response will indicate your political bias.

  • If someone you know of has made a lot of money in their life, what reasons do you put this down to?
  • If you see a young homeless person, what put them there?

If you lean to the Right you will credit the rich person with hard work.  The poor person is lazy and doesn’t have the initiative or motivation to get work.

If you are Left leaning you will say the rich person had advantages in life.  The poor person is a victim of circumstance beyond their control.

I recently made a considered and conscious decision to vote Labour for reasons of fairness.  But when I answered these questions my bias actually led me to lean to the Right.  So it would appear that my bias is buried deeper than my conscious mind………… my genes perhaps?

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