Glass Half Full? It Could Be Your Genetics

    October 11, 2013

People that see the world in a dark light and focus on the negatives in life could have that outlook partially due to their genetics. A new study by researchers from the University of British Columbia has uncovered a genetic predisposition to vividly perceiving negative emotional events.

The study, published recently in the journal Psychological Science, shows that the deletion variant of the ADRA2b gene could affect humans’ real-time perception of emotional events. The gene, which affects the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, has previously been linked to emotional memory formation in the brain.

“This is the first study to find that this genetic variation can significantly affect how people see and experience the world,” said Rebecca Todd, lead author of the study and a Psychology professor at UBC. “The findings suggest people experience emotional aspects of the world partly through gene-coloured glasses – and that biological variations at the genetic level can play a significant role in individual differences in perception.”

Todd and her colleagues looked at 200 study participants, showing them a rapid stream of words. The words were determined to have either positive, negative, or neutral connotations. Those participants who had the ADRA2b deletion gene variant were found to be more likely to percieve negative words in the stream. The perception of positive words was found to be the same between those with the gene variant and those without.

“These individuals may be more likely to pick out angry faces in a crowd of people,” said Todd. “Outdoors, they might notice potential hazards – places you could slip, loose rocks that might fall – instead of seeing the natural beauty.”