Genetic Pessimism

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Your answer may depend on your genes, along with your willingness to answer trite psychological platitudes.

According to a new study published in Psychological Science, it’s possible that some people who carry a particular gene variant experience negative emotional events more vividly than those who don’t. The variant, ADRA2d, is already know to be more prevalent amongst those who have vivid flashbacks after a trauma.

Researchers took two hundred healthy, college-age adults, tested them for the gene variant, and then put them through a short psychological test. The subjects sat in front of a computer, and words flashed by on the screen at a fast clip. Words were either positive (joy, happiness), negative (betrayal, hurt), or neutral (hat, radiator). Subjects were instructed to jot down, with pen and paper, as many words as they could make out.

Subjects with the genetic variant, about half of the total, were much more apt to jot down the negative words than the positive ones.

This suggests that those of us with the gene variant have an inherent negative bias in how we perceive the world. However, a bias is just that: a bias.

Photo courtesy of Dennis von Zuijlekom

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