Paradoxical Gene Linked to Depression...and Optimism?

Posted by Michael Taft on Friday, September 30, 2011 at 11:55AM

Does brain chemistry determine whether you see the glass as half full or half empty? Depression and pessimism might seem like they would go hand in hand, but scientists have discovered that a gene linked to a melancholy disposition also appears to be linked to positive outlooks.

The gene, a short version of the 5-HTTLPR serotonin-transporter, has been linked with vulnerability and depression, whereas the long version of this gene tends to make for happier people. In a test given by researcher Elaine Fox at the University of Essex, it appeared that those with the short “gloomy” gene were more subconsciously sensitive to positive images than those with the long “happy” gene.

“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.

We may at times feel predestined, even doomed, by our brain chemistry and genetics. But the mind is so much more complex than a single gene, and even a single gene may be more complicated than one might assume. It’s a fascinating and ironic little trick of evolution that something that makes you depressed might also make you able to see the positive.

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