‘The Chemistry of Politics’ is an ongoing blog series by biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor to Chemistry.com, Dr. Helen Fisher. Her research is based off of the Chemistry.com personality test, taken by over 10 million people worldwide.
Leadership style and political affiliation is more than skin deep—it is woven into your DNA. Genes, hormones and neurotransmitters contribute to one’s personality, behaviors, and belief system. So what can neuroscience say about Vice Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan?
Joe Biden appears to be primarily a high testosterone Director. Directors are tough-minded, analytical and direct, often blunt. They base their convictions on logic, rather than being swayed by other’s opinions or their emotions. Directors are also strategic, skeptical and independent thinkers, making up their minds with exacting reason. They do not pander or placate; they speak their minds. Joe Biden shows this bold, resourceful, action-oriented, “in your face” spirit.
Paul Ryan is an equally ambitious, tough-minded, self confident and strategic high testosterone type, but Ryan also displays several traits of the Builder, traits linked with the serotonin system. Ryan is conventional. Political commentator Rush Limbaugh called Ryan “the last Boy Scout.” Ryan also follows the rules and respects authority. In high school he joined clubs and befriended teachers. In fact, his yearbook called him the class’ “Biggest Brown-Noser.” Like most Builders, Ryan is also a “true believer,” with clear and unwavering moral convictions; and Ryan needs order and control.
Along with his Director mentality, Biden also shows more traits of the high estrogen style of thinking, the Negotiator. He has an instinctive empathy for the underdog and a deep compassion for–and connection to–the working class. He’s a North American man, pushing for less engagement in Afghanistan and other foreign regions. He’s a vociferous talker, and has what some call an “old fashioned kindness.” Biden also uses notecards to stay focused during meetings. High estrogen people often have difficulty staying on track, as they can see so many options to any issue.
Though Biden and Ryan have many differences in personality traits, these men do however share one biologically based trait I find particularly intriguing: dominance matching. There are two universal postural messages throughout the animal kingdom: the crouch and the loom. To avoid confrontation, animals crouch; they curl and shrivel to look small. Dogs put their tails between their legs; women curl their shoulders, hang their heads and turn in their toes. The message: Don’t attack. The loom position, on the other hand, is combative. Humans, primarily men, arch their backs, puff out their chests, walk with a swaggering gate, and/or laugh, glare or sneer to intimidate a rival. Cod fish bulge out their eyes and pectoral fins. But unlike many who crouch in response to this postural attack, Directors like Biden and Ryan are likely to attack back, squaring off, something scientists call “dominance matching.”
Both Biden and Ryan can be friendly, calm and charming. But both hold strong personal and political convictions. As the next vice president, neither Biden nor Ryan is likely to change their opinions; both are biologically primed to implement their beliefs.