The deletion variant of the ADRA2B gene and the genetic predisposition to focus on the negative

October 17, 2013 – This morning, while commuting (a one and a half hour train ride) not only was I noticing all those stoned and negatively charged early morning faces of my fellow commuters but also I stumbled upon the following fantastic little article on PsyBlog, which explains it all. And yes, I am definitively not a carrier of the deletion variant of ADRA2B. I just imagined how a homozygote individual (i.e. ADRA2Bdel / ADRA2B del) would possibly cope with the world early in the morning. Go on reading the article below (in italics):

Some people are genetically predisposed to spot negative events automatically, according to a new study published in Psychological Science (Todd et al., 2013). A gene called ADRA2B seems to cause people to take particular note of negative emotional events. The study’s lead author, Professor Rebecca Todd explained:

“This is the first study to find that this genetic variation can significantly affect how people see and experience the world. The findings suggest people experience emotional aspects of the world partly through gene-coloured glasses — and that biological variations at the genetic level can play a significant role in individual differences in perception.”

The study used a phenomenon called ‘attentional blink‘ and involved participants looking at a series of positive, negative and neutral emotional words. Those who had the ADRA2b gene variant were more likely to perceive the negative emotional words than those without it. 

Positive emotion words, though, were perceived by those with and without the gene to the same degree.

Of course, we all need to spot very strong emotional stimuli around us–like a loved one in pain or anger and aggression in others–but paying too much attention to negative events can obviously make us unhappy. Not only is the gene linked to differences between people in their attention, but also to memory. People with the gene likely also find negative events are enhanced in their memories.

It may mean that people with the gene are more likely to suffer from uncomfortable flashbacks to negative memories or even posttraumatic stress disorder. Statistically, around 50% of Caucasians have the ADRA2Bdel gene variant, but the rates are much lower in other ethnicities.

As with many genes, though, they interact with the environment: their effect on our individual psychology is partly determined by our upbringing, those around us and how we choose to think and act. Just because there is a gene that influences our starting point, that doesn’t stop us having some control over where we end up.

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