May 24, 2011
Genetic Basis For Prudent Spending Habits

Frugality is (at least partially) in your genes.

In a study of identical twins, which was published in the April edition of Journal of Consumer Research, marketing professors Itamar Simonson of Stanford University and Aner Sela of the University of Florida report that individual consumer preferences — for such products as chocolate, hybrid cars, movies and jazz — are genetically linked. Those preferences, the authors suggest, are a reflection of individual “prudence” — an inheritable predisposition to living “in the mainstream” or “on the edge” or somewhere in between.

This sort of research tends to undermine the credibility of movements that call for a turning away from materialism, restraint in lifestyles for ecological protection, and other movements that argue that we must consume less. The people who are big spenders lack the innate qualities that would enable voluntary reductions in spending. Also, calls for greater savings for retirement are only going to be heard by the genetically more prudent.

The prudent and spendthrift make unsuccessful marriages. Not surprising given that the spending of one spouse is causing emotional pain in the more prudent spouse who fears the consequences of having little money.

What I want to know: Once it becomes possible to choose offspring genetic endowments will the average person choose genes for their offspring that make their offspring more or less frugal than their parents? In other words, will the human population become more or less frugal than it is now?

What I also wonder: Will the power to choose offspring genes lead to the disappearance of the middle ground? For example, will the prudent-leaning make their kids even more frugal while the spendthrifts make their kids even more oblivious to risks and long term consequences of spending decisions?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 May 24 07:35 PM  Brain Innate


Comments
BioBob said at May 24, 2011 11:44 PM:

"Once it becomes possible to choose offspring genetic endowments" LOL @ Randall -- get real !

Most importantly, who said it WILL become possible ? Perhaps the particular trait is linked with a nasty recessive that no one in their right mind would chance. Perhaps it is the result of a complex of 4,567 loci across 9 chromosomes and we can't deal with that much complexity in the selection process. Perhaps we simply won't mess with that process because of politics/ethics/pick something.

While a genetic link is certainly possible, I sure as hell would not bet the farm on the accuracy of that conclusion, either.

I know you love this kind of speculation Randall, but reading some reference books or auditing a years worth of intro genetics class might be helpful in curbing your more outlandish enthusiasms.

Matthew Fuller said at May 25, 2011 7:41 AM:

Yes, I agree with the content but not the tone of the previous post.

For example, take a look at what AGI researcher Ben Goertzel has accomplished with his programming skill in terms of understanding genomic networks. Before we can dream of modifying gene networks we need to first understand them and correlational studies are too simple to really understand what is happening -- indeed, we humans may never understand. The net effect is that this technology is probably a century or longer away, AGI enthusiast or not. It's hard to know for sure with genes - environmental variability is huge, currently impossible to account for right now.

ohwilleke said at May 25, 2011 10:18 AM:

I wonder is this is a correlate of the Big Five personality trait called "openness to experience."

Dentin said at May 25, 2011 2:14 PM:

Personally, I consider our current biochem substrate to be obsolete. All this talk about genes and working with current biological hardware? I'm only interested in it because I happen to need it to keep me alive and functional until I can move into a more stable, efficient, and malleable structure. The sooner I can ditch problems like the "complex of 4,567 loci across 9 chromosomes" mentioned above, the better.

Regarding obsolete: I think of lifespan in terms of centuries, not years. I don't expect 80 years then death - I expect centuries and millennia. So it takes sixty years before practical uploading is common? Big deal. All I have to do is make it that far.

Phillep Harding said at May 25, 2011 3:29 PM:

People with a genetic predisposition to prudence are probably predisposed to have fewer children. The social safety net preserves the lives of the children of the improvident. This is not a good combination.

BioBob said at May 25, 2011 11:28 PM:

@ Dentin, hehe, good luck with that thought !! I too would like to live for a few more centuries.

Despite 100 years of massive improvements in human health care, we have NOT increased the maximum age of humans one iota but have simply pushed the MEAN age at death upward by a few decades. Well documented human maximum age remains between 110 to 120 years old just as it was a century ago.

Mike said at May 26, 2011 10:30 AM:

"Despite 100 years of massive improvements in human health care, we have NOT increased the maximum age of humans one iota but have simply pushed the MEAN age at death upward by a few decades. Well documented human maximum age remains between 110 to 120 years old just as it was a century ago."

Indeed, because we've never fixed the accumulating damage before it causes pathologies, instead of trying to cure pathologies once they develop.

Check out this video for an introduction to the concept, and if you need all the biology details, get Aubrey de Grey's book:

http://www.ted.com/talks/aubrey_de_grey_says_we_can_avoid_aging.html

cath said at May 26, 2011 11:59 AM:

I have an identical twin. I have no debt other than my mortgage which I'm on track for paying off about 10 years early. She has substantial credit card debt, unpaid student loans, and a car loan. In spending, like most things, genes matter, but they aren't everything.

Assistant Village Idiot said at May 26, 2011 3:12 PM:

I don't see that the study shows a genetic component of "spending pain" versus a more generalised ability to see consequences in advance. There is no either-or flip suggested, neither to make us more frugal nor more spendthrift, but a caution prompted by ability to anticipate. As the first two comments noted, such "genetic" predispositions are likely packaged so deeply with other qualities as to be inseparable. Additionally, genes sometimes need specific threshold environments to express at all, extending back to prenatal influences.

As to societal enjoinders to prudence, they have always been part of the overall package and so may not be simply hot air. Religions pair prudence and generosity as related alternatives, so that one's natural tendencies might be fit into a larger social pattern one way or the other.

The long-life excitables here perhaps don't have enough of that genetic loading for caution and effects. A completely new human ability for which we have no cultural history or norms - what could go wrong, eh? There's nothing but upside there, fo sure.

BioBob said at May 26, 2011 4:55 PM:

@ Mike said at May 26, 2011 10:30 AM: "...because we've never fixed the accumulating damage before it causes pathologies.."

(sigh...) Fine. Get back to me after they have done that trivial thing and increased the maximum tail on the human longevity normal curve. REAL SOON NOW (/sarc)

R7 said at May 26, 2011 8:45 PM:

Phillep Harding said:

People with a genetic predisposition to prudence are probably predisposed to have fewer children. The social safety net preserves the lives of the children of the improvident. This is not a good combination.

Luckily, there is a Fifth-Century A.D. solution to that problem.

Paul said at May 28, 2011 7:46 AM:

Assortative mating can cause problems when balancing selection is in operation. I will not be surprised if autism comes from a recessive gene that, when present in only one copy, has a net beneficial effect.

BioBob said at May 29, 2011 6:10 PM:

@Paul - "I will not be surprised if autism comes from a recessive gene"

I WOULD be massively surprised, LOL. It seems to me that 'autism' is a general dustbin category of brain chemistry and developmental defects rather than any one particular condition caused by any one set of specific genetic defects.

After all, there is a large variety of savant-autism types, etc etc. Just way too many for just one set of transcription errors or a single SNP. Anyway, all this stuff is incredibly complex, what with protein precursors generated or not generated, exon / intron modification, etc. so it may be a while before we know. It certainly does not help when frauds like Andrew Wakefield muddy the waters. The guy should be placed up against a wall and shot.

Mthson said at May 29, 2011 10:59 PM:

Assistant Village Idiot said: "[Longevity]... a completely new human ability for which we have no cultural history or norms - what could go wrong, eh?"

Unless you can point to downsides worse than 1 million people dying everyday of an unnecessary disease, the pro-death folks are just spinning their wheels.

You can voluntary die for the sake of your ideals, but other people won't.

Kralizec said at May 30, 2011 9:23 AM:

Genetic sequencing of the genomes of the philosophers whose gravesites are known might yield very interesting and perhaps useful results, as the philosophers seem to be an extremely rare and valuable human type. Niccolo Machiavelli's grave is known, and I imagine those of Spinoza, Leibnitz, Hobbes, Bacon, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger are known, as well, at least in the majority of cases. Searching in Google, I've found that a church in Milan even preserves the right thumb of Thomas Aquinas as a relic. To be clear, I don't overlook the difficulty of gaining access to the remains. But considering whatever information you may have about the technical problems, what do you think are the prospects for genetic sequencing of human remains that are some 50 to 750 years old?

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