Article on political socialization buries the lede

A recent article in Psychological Bulletin looks at various studies on the resemblance between parents and children when it comes to discriminatory political attitudes. The article is framed as investigating socialization accounts — accounts claiming that people get their varying political attitudes by being raised in different ways. The authors find that, indeed, there really is a correlation between the attitudes of parents and children, and, thus, that one of the big roadblocks to socialization theories has been cleared away: “The general argumentation that parental attitudes are irrelevant for prejudice formation in children because of an absence of a parent–child correlation can thus no longer be maintained.”

But then, tucked away at the end, is this:

[F]inally, we must address the question whether significant indices of parent–child similarities even in methodologically rigorous longitudinal studies can be interpreted as reflecting socialization effects (be it parent–child, child–parent, or environment–parent/child) given the possibility of genetic influences. Because effects of parental genes and parental attitudes and behaviors are correlated, ostensible influences of parental attitudes may actually be artifacts of genetic influences. Several twin studies provide first evidence that intergroup attitudes and related attitudes, such as social conservatism, social dominance orientation, right-wing authoritarianism, and political attitudes, have modest to substantial heritability coefficients. Notably, these heritability indices are similar in magnitude to the effect sizes we have found in the current metaanalysis. Furthermore, the shared environment of siblings—which would include parental attitudes and behaviors—appears to be of negligible importance in these studies (as compared to the unshared environment). This could be taken to imply that parents have little direct influence on their children’s intergroup attitudes, or at least that they do not affect different siblings in the same ways.

In other words: Yeah, well, we’ve been telling you for 20 pages about how important parent-child socialization is for political attitudes, but it turns out that adults’ attitudes probably don’t have much to do with how they were raised.

It has the feel of something that probably wasn’t in the authors’ submitted draft, but was added at the insistence of a reviewer/editor later in the process (I could well be wrong about that, as I have no inside information here).

Behavioral genetics findings have thrown a monkey wrench in traditional social science. We’re at that awkward stage where everyone knows it, but there’s so much inertia behind the old approaches that we’re likely to see many more weird examples like this of burying the lede.

The paper: Degner, J., & Dalege, J. (2013). The apple does not fall far from the tree, or does it? A meta-analysis of parent-child similarity in intergroup attitudes. Psychological Bulletin, 6, 1270-1304.

Social science for the pleeps