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Leadership influenced by genetics, claim scientists

21 January 2013

By George Frodsham

Appeared in BioNews 689

Some really are born leaders; according to a new study, the likelihood of occupying a leadership role is affected by your genes.

Researchers looked at the genetic makeup of 3,500 people and identified those who have supervisory positions at work. They calculated that those who have the DNA sequence known as rs4950 were 24 percent more likely to occupy these roles. These people are suggested to be more likely to possess leadership qualities, although the study did not identify a direct link between rs4950 and any specific traits.

'We have identified a genotype which appears to be associated with the passing of leadership ability down through generations', said lead author Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve from the UCL School of Public Policy. 'Although leadership should still be thought of predominantly as a skill to be developed, genetics - in particular the rs4950 genotype - can also play a significant role in predicting who is more likely to occupy leadership roles', he continued.

The study looked at identical twins, who have identical genotypes, and non-identical twins, whose genotypes vary. Given that non-identical twins generally have the same upbringing, any trait that frequently appears in only one of the two, while being shared between identical twins, can be said to be hereditary.

The authors of the study call for more research into the effects on personality traits of different genotypes, including rs4950 which 50 percent of the general population possess. They do note however that 'genetic factors do not explain most of the variance in leadership emergence' and hope that their research will be used in an attempt to identify the environmental factors that promote leadership qualities, rather than as a tool to select potential leaders.

'Our work also draws attention to the ethical issues surrounding the use of genetic tests for leadership selection and assessment, and that we should seriously consider expanding current protections against genetic discrimination in the labour market', said Dr De Neve. 'If we really want to understand leadership and its effect on organisational, institutional, economic and political outcomes, we must study both nature and nurture', he added.

The team analysed data from two US health studies; the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the Framingham Heart Study. The study was published in the journal The Leadership Quarterly.

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