Fear can play a role in influencing political attitudes on hot-button issues like immigration, according to new research co-authored by Brown political scientist Rose McDermott. The study, published in the American Journal of Political Science, shows that individuals who are genetically predisposed to fear tend to have more negative out-group opinions, which play out politically as support for policies like anti-immigration and segregation.
“It’s not that conservative people are more fearful, it’s that fearful people are more conservative. People who are scared of novelty, uncertainty, people they don’t know, and things they don’t understand, are more supportive of policies that provide them with a sense of surety and security,” McDermott said.
The researchers make clear, however, that genetics plays only part of the role in influencing political preferences. Education, they found, had an equally large influence on out-group attitudes, with more highly educated people displaying more supportive attitudes toward out-groups and education having a substantial mediating influence on the correlation between parental fear and child out-group attitudes.
“In this way, the definition of unfamiliar may shift across time and location based on experience and education, and a genetically informed fear disposition is hardly permanent or fixed,” the researchers wrote.
In other words, the research confirms what many of us have been saying for years. Namely, that conservative antipathy toward blacks, Latinos, Indians, Muslims, gays, et al. is motivated by fear.
For more on conservative racism, see Whiteness Defines Others as Outsiders and White Men Lose to Demographic Change.