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Introduction: What is a ‘gene’ and why does it matter for political science?


  • Peter K Hatemi

    (Departments of Political Science and Microbiology, Pennsylvania State University, USA
    United States Studies Center, University of Sydney, Australia)

  • Enda Byrne

    (Genetic Epidemiology Unit, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Australia)

  • Rose McDermott

    (Department of Political Science, Brown University, USA)


A recent stream of influential research suggests that the inclusion of behavioral genetic models can further inform our understanding of political preferences and behaviors. But it has often remained unclear what these models mean, or how they might matter for the broader discourse in the political science literature. The initial wave of behavioral genetic research focused on foundational discovery, and has begun to outline the basic properties of genetic influence on political traits, while a second wave of research has begun to link genetic findings to broader aspects of political behaviors. In the introduction to this special issue, we explicate how genes operate, the most common forms of behavioral genetic analyses, and their recent applications toward political behaviors. In so doing, we discuss what these findings mean for political science, and describe how best to interpret them. We note potential limitations of behavioral genetic approaches and remain cautious against the overextension of such models. The five articles that follow strive to move beyond discovery and focus more on the integration of behavioral genetic models with mainstream theories of political behavior to analyze problems of interest to political scientists.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter K Hatemi & Enda Byrne & Rose McDermott, 2012. "Introduction: What is a ‘gene’ and why does it matter for political science?," Journal of Theoretical Politics, , vol. 24(3), pages 305-327, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jothpo:v:24:y:2012:i:3:p:305-327

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    biology; genetics; heritability;


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