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Sometimes I run into things in the GSS which just don’t fit expectations. On occasion the results are so weird or unexpected I check my coding over and over. Or, I have a suspicion that something was input incorrectly. This is one of those cases. As often happens a comment was made as to the acceptance of biological explanations for behavior, and their political correlates. I decided to poke around and confirm what I knew: that liberals are more environmentalist than conservatives, who are more hereditarian. This is not what I found!

The gene related questions have the following form:

… what percent of the person’s behavior you think is influenced by the genes they inherit, and what percent is influenced by their learning and experience. After each question, type the number of the box that comes closest to your answer. Remember, the higher the number, the more you think the behavior is influenced by learning and experience; the lower the number, the more you think it is influenced by genes

Each respondent could select from 21 values, from 1 to 21, with 1 = 100% genetic, 21 = 0% genetic, at 5% increments. So 3 = 90% genetic. This isn’t technically correct as an understanding of heritability, but I think it gets across the intuitions of heritability. All the questions were asked in 2004. They were:

– GENENVO1: Carol is a substantially overweight White woman. She has lost weight in the past but always gains it back again.

– GENENVO2: David is an Asian man who drinks enough alcohol to become drunk several times a week. Often he can’t remember what happened during these drinking episodes.

– GENENVO3: Felicia is a very kind Hispanic woman. She never has anything bad to say about anybody, and can be counted on to help others.

– GENENVO4: George is a Black man who’s a good all-around athlete. He was on the high school varsity swim team and still works out five times a week.

I know some of these questions are weird. It seems that with the third one they’re asking as to the heritability of sainthood! But work with me. Below I’ve labeled the questions in a more intelligible manner. Each row is a category in the GSS. The row-column values are the ratios between those who believe that the behavior is 80-100% genetic, and 0-20% genetic. If the ratio is above 1, that indicates more people are in the first class than the last, and if it is below 1 it indicates more people are in the latter class than the former.

Obese white woman Drunk Asian man Saintly Hispanic woman Athletic black man
White 0.45 0.65 0.54 0.6
Black 0.83 0.97 1 1.09
High School 0.56 0.8 0.72 0.69
Bachelor 0.45 0.48 0.33 0.44
Graduate 0.4 0.3 0.35 0.5
Male 0.5 0.54 0.59 0.65
Female 0.55 0.83 0.63 0.68
Democrat 0.61 0.8 0.64 0.77
Independent 0.79 0.79 0.67 0.6
Republican 0.36 0.51 0.56 0.58
Liberal 0.94 0.83 0.78 0.79
Moderate 0.63 0.59 0.6 0.65
Conservative 0.49 0.55 0.51 0.54
Age 18-35 0.57 0.73 0.68 0.58
Age 36-65 0.49 0.62 0.53 0.71
Age 66+ 0.52 0.89 0.76 0.81
Not intelligent 0.63 2.1 1 0.91
Average 0.42 0.76 0.61 0.74
Intelligent 0.33 0.35 0.32 0.44
Protestant 0.5 0.69 0.58 0.67
Catholic 0.55 0.77 0.7 0.79
No religion 0.59 0.5 0.51 0.54

No surprise that the more intelligent and educated are less hereditarian. But looking over it a few times, the numbers for conservatives and Republicans are what they are. Perhaps there was an error in the data input? For the curious, the correlation matrix:

Obese white woman Drunk Asian man Saintly Hispanic woman Athletic black man
Obese white woman 0.41 0.69 0.59
Drunk Asian man 0.81 0.69
Saintly Hispanic woman 0.9

Here are the variables:

COLUMN: RELIG WORDSUM(r:0-4;5-7;9-10) AGE(r:18-35;36-65;66-*) RACE DEGREE SEX PARTYID(r:0-2″Dem”;3″Ind”;4-6″Rep”) POLVIEWS(r:1-3″Liberal”;4″Moderate”;5-7″Conservative”)

ROW: GENENVO1(r:1-5″100-80% genes”;6-11 “75-50% genes”;12-16″45-25% genes”;17-21″20-0% genes”) GENENVO2(r:1-5″100-80% genes”;6-11″75-50% genes”;12-16″45-25% genes”;17-21″20-0% genes”) GENENVO3(r:1-5″100-80% genes”;6-11″75-50% genes”;12-16″45-25% genes”;17-21″20-0% genes”) GENENVO4(r:1-5″100-80% genes”;6-11″75-50% genes”;12-16″45-25% genes”;17-21″20-0% genes”)

• Category: Science • Tags: Data Analysis, GSS, Hereditarianism 
Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"