Biotech Updates

'Gloomy' Gene May Make People More Positive

September 23, 2011

A gene variant that has been known to make people more gloomy might also help see the positive, according to a study conducted by Elaine Fox at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. In previous studies, it has been found that the short version of the 5-HTTLPR serotonin-transporter gene is linked with vulnerability and depression, in contrast to the "happier" carriers of the longer version. Fox investigated further by asking 62 volunteers with the short variant and 54 with the long version to answer computer exercises that tested how quickly they could identify a target, superimposed either on a positive or negative image, shown side by side. Without the knowledge of the volunteers, there were exercises that target either on the positive or the negative image.

Results showed that volunteers with the short variant adapted to this unconscious bias, identifying the target 40 to 60 milliseconds faster than when the target was randomly assigned. The reactions of long-variant volunteers barely changed.

"The short version is not just a vulnerability variant," says Fox. It could also be an "opportunity" gene, she says, suggesting that these people are more responsive to emotion, both positive and negative.

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