November 08, 2010
COMT-Val Gene Variant Increases Altruism?

Does a variant of a gene that cleans up neurotransmitter dopamine more effectively make its carriers more altruistic?

Do you like to do good things for other people? If so, your genes might be responsible for this. At least, the results of a study conducted by researchers of the University of Bonn suggest this. According to the study, a minute change in a particular gene is associated with a significantly higher willingness to donate. People with this change gave twice as much money on average to a charitable cause as did other study subjects. The results have now been published in the journal Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience (doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq083).

The researchers working with the psychologist Professor Dr. Martin Reuter invited their students to take a "retention test": The roughly 100 participants were to memorize series of numbers and then repeat them as correctly as possible. They received the sum of five Euros for doing this. Afterwards, they could either take their hard-earned money home or donate any portion of it to a charitable cause. This decision was made freely and in apparent anonymity. "However, we always knew how much money was in the cash box beforehand and could therefore calculate the amount donated", explains Reuter.

COMT-Met carriers do not give up as much money.

This mini-mutation also has effects on behavior: "Students with the COMT-Val gene donated twice as much money on average as did fellow students with the COMT-Met variant", explains Reuter. This is the first time that researchers have been able to establish a connection between a particular gene and altruistic deeds. However, it was already known from studies on twins that altruistic behavior is also partly influenced by our genes.

This seems fairly easily testable on larger populations. This reminds me: We need web sites where people to use genetic testing services such as 23andme can submit their genetic testing results and take a lot of online tests to check various hypotheses and theories about genes and human nature. A study like the one above could be tested with many thousands of volunteers.

These results point out why we should have the legally recognized right (tell the FDA) to do direct-to-consumer genetic testing btw: If people are free to get lots of genetic test data collected on them on their own nickel then massive voluntary studies of genes and human nature and health could be conducted without anyone ever showing up at a medical clinic or research facility. This could lower the cost of genetic research on humanity by orders of magnitude.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 November 08 10:45 PM  Brain Genetics

Carla said at November 9, 2010 5:42 AM:

Congratulatios!!! Now that you found it, can you give it back to the world, please?

Lono said at November 9, 2010 7:04 AM:

I can't wait till the empathetic altruists of the world can single out and crush all those who do not share our minimum levels of empathy and altruism!

COMT-Val or DIE!!!


(I am almost not joking)

Dowlan Smith said at November 9, 2010 12:07 PM:

imagine if a fund raising company could get a list of the people with the "altruism" gene.

Randall Parker said at November 9, 2010 5:43 PM:

Dowlan Smith,

I thought the same thing. It has more uses than just with fund-raisers. Do COMT-Val carriers make more or less money than COMT-Met carriers? Do they allow themselves to be exploited for their boss or co-workers? Or do they give more at work and therefore work harder?

Also, does a COMT-Val carrier work harder at work for their kids? So do they experience a bigger income boost once they have kids?

I can think of all sorts of angles. Do COMT-Val carriers go more into nursing and other occupations that involve caring for others? Are they more socialist?


More likely the COMT-Met carriers will make COMT-Val carriers into slaves.

Lono said at November 10, 2010 7:33 AM:


Okay man - you keep telling yourself that!


Seriously though - a lot of altruistic people have a severe dislike of injustice - bordering on tendencies towards vigilante behavior.

(And we own guns too!)

So - I guess I'm sayin' - BRING IT!!!!

(though I suspect you are also a COMT-Val kinda guy - hence your free, informative, blogs)

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