Why do some people act on impulse and behave unpredictably? Even worse, they are often full of aggressiveness and resentment during office hours and at home. In the meantime, others do not wish anybody ill, they are normally cool and collected in various circumstances. Do the human behavior, temperament, and psyche hinge on education, environment, and heredity? All the above factors matter, say scientists. However, the genetic characteristics, a sort of programmed qualities and traits play an important role. A number of research projects in quest of genetic foundations of a personality are currently under way in the developed countries. Russian scientists conduct research on the subject too. Our correspondent speaks with Svetlana Borinskaya, chief researcher of the genome analysis laboratory at the Institute of General Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences:
Q: Would it be right to say that scientists have already discovered the genes of aggressiveness, joy or anxiety?
A: The search has been going on for a long while. For example, the Dutch geneticist Hans Brunner carried out a study involving three generations of a family whose males were known for their impulsive and aggressive behavior. The results show that an X chromosome plays a role of crucial importance. The chromosome underwent a mutation that disrupted the transmission of a signal from one nerve cell to another. The characteristic was hereditary and observed only in males of the given family. Females might as well be the carriers of mutation without being aggressive at the same time.
Brunner arrived at the conclusions after examining the behavior and genetic characteristics of 14 impulsive males. Notwithstanding the conclusions, scientists triggered a similar mutation in mice for the purpose of additional control. The results were rather stunning. In no time the mice became aggressive and attacked their neighbors for no apparent reason. Then more research into the human aggressiveness was launched. So far scientists have failed to detect similar changes in an X chromosome of the males engaged in the research. Therefore, it is too early to talk about the discovery of a ‘gene of aggressiveness.’ A gene on its own can not determine the behavioral pattern of a person, which is a product of interaction of many genes…
Meanwhile, scientists found a different gene enabling them to trace the links to anxiety or depression by examining metabolism. A compound called serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is naturally synthesized by the human body. A low level of serotonin in the cerebrospinal fluid will boost anxiety or depression. Consequently, the transmission of signals between the nerve cells is delayed in this case. The serotonin exchange is controlled by a gene that is thought to be responsible for developing depression. The research into the mechanism eventually enabled scientists to produce a medicine for treating depression.
Q: Given the discovery of a gene of anxiety and depression, there should be a gene of pleasure if the law of symmetry is applicable in this case.
A: Correct, we have found that gene too. A neurotransmitter dopamine is synthesized under control of certain genes in the human body. It determines an inclination for the search of strong emotions and pleasure. The way the above genes are programmed, and the location of nucleotides (units that make up two strands the DNA is composed of) exert influence on a person’s inclination for new impressions, his drive for risky jobs, promiscuity. In some cases they also provoke an unhealthy passion for games of chance, drugs, and alcohol.
Q: I seem to have seen a report about the existence of a gene of marital faithfulness…
A: It is too early to talk about the discovery of such a gene yet scientists have made good progress working in this area. A study of a prairie field mouse, one of the species of small rodents, brought out rather unusual results. Males of the species will be normally loyal to their partners till the end. But males will start playing around with a number of females once one of their genes has been slightly changed. Maybe the talk about the ‘gene of marital faithfulness’ sprang from the experiment. However, no research on the role of this gene in human relations has been conducted thus far.
Q: How big is the role of genetic factors in forming specific characteristics of a person’s temperament and behavior? To what degree are the former and the latter determined by upbringing, family, and environment?
A: The majority of behavioral characteristics and psychological particularities depend on heredity by 40%-60% while some mental disorders are hereditary by 80%. Behavior largely hinges on upbringing and environment. It is funny that an unfavorable family environment will not affect much a child with ‘good genes’. At the same time, environment and upbringing will play a decisive role if a child has a ‘bad’ kind of genes. Such a child will develop quite well in happy families while a bad upbringing will make him crime-prone.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the point about this branch of science being right at the beginning of the road. So the major breakthroughs are yet to be seen.
Translated by Guerman Grachev
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