May 17, 2012
Larger Role Found For Genes In Personality

You are free to become the kind of person your genes want you to be.

Genes play a greater role in forming character traits - such as self-control, decision making or sociability - than was previously thought, new research suggests.

A study of more than 800 sets of twins found that genetics were more influential in shaping key traits than a person's home environment and surroundings.

Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh who carried out the study, say that genetically influenced characteristics could well be the key to how successful a person is in life.

The study of twins in the US – most aged 50 and over– used a series of questions to test how they perceived themselves and others. Questions included "Are you influenced by people with strong opinions?" and "Are you disappointed about your achievements in life?"

The results were then measured according to the Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale which assesses and standardises these characteristics.

By tracking their answers, the research team found that identical twins - whose DNA is exactly the same - were twice as likely to share traits compared with non-identical twins.

My recurring thought in genetic control of personality: Once it becomes possible for prospective parents to choose brain gene variations for their offspring what sorts of minds will they choose to make? The answer to that question will some day start to determine the future of the human race. My guess is that offspring genetic engineering will become very popular within 20 years at most.

Finally genetic testing costs have fallen far enough to chase after the genetic variants that influence cognitive traits. What makes this chase hard: each genetic variant that influences cognitive traits has only a very small effect. Our brain-altering genetic variants are large in number and each has only small impact.

ITHACA, N.Y. – Genetic factors explain some of the variation in a wide range of people's political attitudes and economic decisions – such as preferences toward environmental policy and financial risk taking – but most associations with specific genetic variants are likely to be very small, according to a new study led by Cornell University economics professor Daniel Benjamin.

The research team arrived at the conclusion after studying a sample of about 3,000 subjects with comprehensive genetic data and information on economic and political preferences. The researchers report their findings in "The Genetic Architecture of Economic and Political Preferences," published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition, May 7, 2012.

The study showed that unrelated people who happen to be more similar genetically also have more similar attitudes and preferences. This finding suggests that genetic data - taken as a whole – could eventually be moderately predictive of economic and political preferences. The study also found evidence that the effects of individual genetic variants are tiny, and these variants are scattered across the genome. Given what is currently known, the molecular genetic data has essentially no predictive power for the 10 traits studied, which included preferences toward environmental policy, foreign affairs, financial risk and economic fairness.

This conclusion is at odds with dozens of previous papers that have reported large genetic associations with such traits, but the present study included ten times more participants than the previous studies.

"An implication of our findings is that most published associations with political and economic outcomes are probably false positives. These studies are implicitly based on the incorrect assumption that there are common genetic variants with large effects," said Benjamin. "If you want to find genetic variants that account for some of the differences between people in their economic and political behavior, you need samples an order of magnitude larger than those presently used," he added.

I'm looking forward to the day when I can identify thru genetic testing all the people who are lucky enough to share with me the cognitive traits that enable us to share the same profound understanding of why everyone is wrong when they disagree with us.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 May 17 10:31 PM  Brain Innate


Comments
PacRim Jim said at May 17, 2012 11:13 PM:

I wonder how much personality is influenced by the epigenome, that is, which genes are turned on or off.
In other words, is personality manipulable? It does change over time.

The Empiricist said at May 18, 2012 6:40 AM:

When you say "Genes play a greater role in forming character traits... than was previously thought" it would probably be more accurate to say "than was previously thought _by scientists_."

Folk psychology (ie what non-scientists think) has long held that people take after their parents, and not just in appearance. This research is another data point in disproving the now discredited 'blank slate' hypothesis.

James Bowery said at May 18, 2012 4:09 PM:

If, as reported in this article, there are genetic influences for individualism vs collectivism, how can we expect individualism to prevail under an open immigration policy? On what basis can we reasonably claim that atomized individuals will successfully compete for resources against gangs?

solaris said at May 21, 2012 11:40 AM:

>"By tracking their answers, the research team found that identical twins - whose DNA is exactly the same - were twice as likely to share traits compared with non-identical twins."

Of course, identical twins are a lot more likely to be treated identically by their parents and others than are non-identical twins.

>"The study showed that unrelated people who happen to be more similar genetically also have more similar attitudes and preferences. This finding suggests that genetic data - taken as a whole – could eventually be moderately predictive of economic and political preferences. The study also found evidence that the effects of individual genetic variants are tiny, and these variants are scattered across the genome. Given what is currently known, the molecular genetic data has essentially no predictive power for the 10 traits studied, which included preferences toward environmental policy, foreign affairs, financial risk and economic fairness."

I expect that the fault here lies with the reporter writing the article and not the science, but the fact remains that these statements are contradictory.

solaris said at May 22, 2012 3:49 PM:

There's an implicit but rarely stated "Ceteris paribus!" to all these studies. I don't care if your genes say you should be happy and outgoing - if your parents smack your face every time you smile you're NOT going to turn into a happy and outgoing adult. The correct answer to "Nature or nurture?" should always be "Both".

James Bowery said at May 25, 2012 5:05 AM:

Ice picks have been known to wield at least as much influence on intelligence as genes and clearly, ice picks are part of the environment. Indeed, a government program to apply ice picks to all children could demonstrate the dominant role of the environment regarding intelligence.

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