Genes, psychological traits and civic engagement
Civic engagement is a classic example of a collective action problem: while civic participation improves life in the community as a whole, it is individually costly and thus there is an incentive to free ride on the actions of others. Yet, we observe significant inter-individual variation in the degree to which people are in fact civically engaged. Early accounts reconciling the theoretical prediction with empirical reality focused either on variation in individuals' material resources or their attitudes, but recent work has turned to genetic differences between individuals. We show an underlying genetic contribution to an index of civic engagement (0.41), as well as for the individual acts of engagement of volunteering for community or public service activities (0.33), regularly contributing to charitable causes (0.28) and voting in elections (0.27). There are closer genetic relationships between donating and the other two activities; volunteering and voting are not genetically correlated. Further, we show that most of the correlation between civic engagement and both positive emotionality and verbal IQ can be attributed to genes that affect both traits. These results enrich our understanding of the way in which genetic variation may influence the wide range of collective action problems that individuals face in modern community life.