December 22, 2008
Serotonin Gene Makes Some More Popular?

Does a genetic variant cause rule-breaking and therefore popularity?

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A groundbreaking study of popularity by a Michigan State University scientist has found that genes elicit not only specific behaviors but also the social consequences of those behaviors.

According to the investigation by behavioral geneticist S. Alexandra Burt, male college students who had a gene associated with rule-breaking behavior were rated most popular by a group of previously unacquainted peers.

The devil made me do it by giving me a serotonin gene variant.

Burt collected DNA from more than 200 male college students in two separate samples. After interacting in a lab setting for about an hour, the students filled out a questionnaire about whom they most liked in their group. In both samples, the most popular students turned out to be the ones with a particular form of a serotonin gene that was also associated with rule-breaking behavior.

“So the gene predisposed them to rule-breaking behavior and their rule-breaking behavior made them more popular,” Burt said.

Break the rules to become more popular. Blame your genes if you get caught.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 December 22 10:35 PM  Brain Genetics

averros said at December 23, 2008 12:01 AM:

The specialization run amock... the geneticists are totally ignorant of what their colleagues next door do at the ethology dept.

It is not "rule breaking" which makes rule breakers popular - what all that rule breaking demonstrates is that they are smart enough / brave enoung and can get away with it (or take the consequences in stride) - implying high genetic quality and high rank potential. This is exactly the same mechanism of "handicap" (first described by Zahavi) which explains tails of peacocks, and zillions of other seemingly maladaptive traights.

The function of "rule breaking" is to signal superiority.

And, of course, serotonin is directly linked to ranking - higher levels promote self-assurance and positive outlook, which makes taking risks more acceptable.

Tom Schaefer said at December 24, 2008 8:05 AM:


"Specialization run amock" might be just another sign that the scientific community needs a better Knowledge Management approach, which will lead to cross-field integration. I wonder if the NSF realizes this is a low-cost high-leverage issue? If they don't, I'm sure Google does. But how to quickly proliferate the skills and encourage the adoption of standards-based tools?

Randall Parker said at December 24, 2008 11:50 AM:

Tom Schaefer,

A prof at MIT told me he stopped applying for grants at NSF (and he was getting approved, not turned down) because he found his grant supervisors and the rules they imposed just too retarded. They wanted lots of reports they didn't understand and no one else read. Their questions and advice were an insult to this guy's intelligence. He switched to getting corp money because the corp people were no-nonsense, understood what he was doing, and required very little paperwork.

So I am saying do not expect much from the NSF. Really good minds want to do the research, not work as apparatchiks in the NSF.

The institutional forces for specialization are far too great to easily address. People advance by making advances in their field. Renaissance men face tough sledding even if they are brilliant.

Kelly said at January 12, 2009 10:21 AM:

Thanks for the information on serotonin. Who know that serotonin could even play a role in popularity?

We recently wrote an article on depression at Brain Blogger. The serotonin (neurochemical) system has long been targeted for helping to reduce depression and stress. But how effective are these drugs in treating depression?

We would like to read your comments on our article. Thank you.


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