Wednesday, September 14, 2011

UCLA psychologists discover a gene's link to optimism, self-esteem

Life Scientists in UCLA have determined that the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) is linked to optimism, self-esteem and feelings of control over personal life. These psychological resources have been identified as vital mechanisms for being able to cope with stress and depression. The OXTR gene regulates the hormone oxytocin. This hormone increases as a response to stress and is therefore related to good social skills such as the ability to empathize and enjoy company.

OXTR has two versions. The first one is known as the "A" variant and the other as the "G" variant. According to their studies, people who have the "A" variant composed of either two adenine or one adenine and one guanine nucleotides at a specific sight of the OXTR gene, "have substantially lower levels of optimism, self-esteem and mastery and significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms than people with two guanine nucleotides.” The subjects were asked to take a test that determined levels of self-worth and optimism by evaluating statements such as “I feel I am a person of worth” and “I usually expect the best”. The subjects were also tested for depression with a test commonly utilized by psychologist to determine mental disorders. The results of the study were consistent with the variant difference.

Although Shelly E. Taylor, the senior author of the research, admits that having this gene does not guarantee the outcome, she insists that this identification is "highly significant" and has important implications". "Genes do not mean destiny," Shelly says, but there are many other factors that affect the expression of a gene. Furthermore, the gene was tested for interference with learning cooping skills and the results were negative. Therefore, people can train to become more optimistic and prevent depression through other social and psychological means. The effect of the knowledge these scientist have acquired is the ability to predetermine depressive tendencies in children so that social action may be taken to prevent the effects. The group is also continuing research for additional genes that may predict behavioral responses to stress and how they interact with OXTR.

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