People's willingness to help others may be influenced by a gene that affects their level of social anxiety, according to a new study led by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln scientist. The study appears to be the first to describe this particular pathway.
Research participants who carry the dominant version of the gene were more likely to indicate anxiety about social interactions or being trapped in situations or places. The anxiety appears to inhibit their "prosocial" behavior and increase their reluctance to come to the aid of strangers.
Scott Stoltenberg, a UNL behavior geneticist and the study's lead author, said the gene -- officially known as the 5-HTTLPR triallelic genotype -- affects the amygdala, an area of the brain that is sensitive to threat.
"This particular gene makes a difference in how sensitive you are to threat," he said. "If you're looking at an ambiguous social situation, where there's someone standing there, needing help -- maybe you are more likely to interpret that as a threat, a potentially dangerous or embarrassing situation."
Imagine you had a switch you could flip that would change the behavior of genes which govern neurotransmitter metabolism. Researchers are obviously building up a list of genes that cause differences in personality and behavior. One can imagine putting different variants of the same gene into nerve cells but with an added chemically controllable switch on each variant flips it on and off.
A person whose cells contain lots of nerve cell genes with added chemical switches could have their personality altered by taking an assortment of drugs to flip all their neurogenetic switches. Imagine what could be done with such a capability. You could control your personality for example, flip into full relaxation mode on weekends and then flip to intense work mode in the early hours of Monday.
Or someone else could control your personality. A military could turn on and off warrior personalities. Criminal justice systems could turn down brain subsystems involved causing violence while turning up brain subsystems that suppress violence.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2013 October 16 10:19 PM|