Page URL:

Financial whizzkids could carry 'warrior gene' variant

20 December 2010
Appeared in BioNews 589

A gene variant that has previously been linked to aggression and impulsiveness – the MAOA-L ‘warrior gene' variant – is also associated with shrewd financial decision-making, a new study claims. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology found that men who carried the MAOA-L gene variant were more likely to take calculated risks that would benefit them financially, compared to men without the gene variant.

The study investigated whether variants of three different genes – all implicated in risk behaviour and associated with mood and decision-making pathways in the brain – were involved in financial risk-taking. The researchers analysed the genes in 83 young men, aged between 19 and 27 years old and from different ethnic backgrounds, and recorded their choices in a series of gambling tasks.

The genes of interest encode for the monoamine oxidase-A enzyme (MAOA), the dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) and the serotonin transporter (5-HTT). The MAOA-L gene variant has been linked to aggressive and impulsive behaviour, compared to the MAOA-H variant of the gene. A gene variant of DRD4 is associated with risk taking and novelty seeking, and a 5-HTT gene variant with anxiety and risk aversion.

The men were asked to undertake a series of 140 gambling tests in which they had to choose between a no-risk option (being given $2, for example) and a risky option (a 50:50 chance of gaining $10 or losing $5, for example). These tests are known to test an individual’s aversion to risk. Carriers of the MAOA-L gene variant were more likely to take financial risks – they chose the risky option in 41 percent of the tests, compared to 36 percent in MAOA-H carriers. There was no difference in risk-taking among the DRD4 or 5-HTT gene variants.

The researchers then used a computer model to distinguish between two components of the decision-making process: determining the value of each option, and choosing between the two options. They assessed the pattern of choices of all participants, and how often participants chose the risky option that had a positive outcome for them. They found that, although there were no differences in the way participants valued the options, the MAOA-L carriers were more likely to take financial risks when there was a clear advantage to them. They chose the risky option 6.4 percent more often than MAOA-H carriers when this option was advantageous and in their self-interest.

The researchers concluded that: 'MAOA-L carriers exhibited such behaviour because they are able to make better financial decisions under risk, and not because they are more impulsive'. Cary Frydman, who led the study, said: 'It shows that risky behaviour is not always counterproductive and it's not always sub optimal'. Individuals who carry the MAOA-L variant 'just make better choices', he said. 'This isn’t the same as aggression'.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, might compel others to re-interpret the results of earlier studies of the MAOA gene. Behaviour that was categorised as aggressive or impulsive in MAOA-L carriers might also have been the optimal decision in certain situations, suggests Antonio Rangel, Associate Professor at the California Institute of Technology. A 2009 study found that MAOA-L carriers were more aggressive in high-provocation situations, but not at low levels of provocation. This finding might also reflect calculated decision-making in MAOA-L carriers. Environmental factors and gene-environment interactions are also likely to play a significant role in risk decision-making.

Gene that makes you good at taking risky decisions
Telegraph |  8 December 2010
Is good luck at gambling all in the genes?
Nature |  8 December 2010
People with 'warrior gene' better at risky decisions
New Scientist |  9 December 2010
Researchers gain new insights into 'warrior gene'
Stanford blog |  8 December 2010
24 February 2014 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
Children carrying a specific variant of an ADHD-related gene are more likely to watch violent TV and play violent video games, research suggests...
28 November 2011 - by Eleanor White 
Would you let your 10-year-old child sit out of PE classes if they were not built for sport? Would it inspire you to do better if you found out your genes indicated that you're not likely to succeed at it? Or would it demoralise you to the point that you give up on something you love?...
20 June 2011 - by Stevienna de Saille 
Arising from Dr Antoinette Rouvroy's doctoral research, Human Genes and Neoliberal Governance was originally published as a hardback in 2008, but has only recently become available in a paperback edition affordable to the general reader. In between those two dates much has happened in the field of genetics and governance, both globally and in the UK...
6 December 2010 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
American researchers suggest a genetic element to an individual's sexual behaviour. A genetic variant of the dopamine receptor gene, DRD4, was found to be more common in people displaying higher rates of sexual promiscuity and infidelity....
29 November 2010 - by Chris Chatterton 
An international study has uncovered new genes linked to the early onset of puberty and increased likelihood of obesity. The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 32 genome-wide association studies (GWAS) involving over 100,000 women from Europe, the US and Australia....
29 November 2010 - by Dr Aarathi Prasad 
Researchers at Edinburgh University's department of psychology report that there is a biological mechanism underpinning the loyalty that a person feels to their social group....
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.