Morality is genetic? Your genes may influence views on casual hookups, drugs

WASHINGTON — Casual sex and recreational drug use can be an especially uncomfortable subject to discuss for some families more than others. Many may see personal morals on such touchy subjects as a matter of preference and personality, but a new study finds genes may actually play an influential role in shaping those one’s morality.

Researchers with the Association for Psychological Science report there may be a “common genetic basis” that influences individual opinions on non-committal sex and the use of drugs recreationally. Suffice to say, these findings hold major implications toward modern science’s understanding of how genes and heredity contribute to opinions and moral values.

“People adopt behaviors and attitudes, including certain moral views, that are advantageous to their own interests,” says lead study author Annika Karinen, a researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, in a media release. “People tend to associate recreational drug use with noncommitted sex. As such, people who are heavily oriented toward high commitment in sexual relationships morally condemn recreational drugs, as they benefit from environments in which high sexual commitment is the norm.”

Prior research has found that openness to casual sex may, at least in part, be attributable to a person’s genes — but only to a certain extent. This time around, the research team set out to determine if the same holds true for views on drug use, which some closely connect with being more open to noncommittal sex.

Is morality about genes or your upbringing?

Study authors surveyed 8,118 Finnish fraternal and identical twins about their openness to both recreational drug use and sex outside of a relationship. Then, researchers compared fraternal and identical twins in order to see just how much views on casual sex, drug use, and the relationship between the two depends on three distinct factors.

The first of those factors is genetics. The second is shared environment (growing up in the same house, neighborhood) and the third is personal unique experiences. That process led to the conclusion that views on sex and drugs are about 50 percent heritable and 50 percent explained by one’s unique environment.

Similarly, the relationship between openness to casual sex and views on drugs is about 75 percent attributable to genetic effects. The team also noted significant genetic overlap. For instance, roughly 40 percent of the genes linked to openness to casual sex also appear to have a connection with moral views on recreational drugs.

“These findings suggest that the genetic effects that influence openness to noncommitted sex overlap with those that influence moral views concerning recreational drugs,” Karinen concludes. “Important parts of hot-button culture-war issues flow from differences in lifestyle preferences between people, and those differences in lifestyle preferences appear to partly have a genetic basis.”

The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

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