Study: Genetics May Nudge Some People Toward Risky Behavior

A study done by researchers from the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (SSGAC) suggests that genetics may nudge some individuals toward more risky behavior like smoking, drinking and speeding.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature Genetics, included data from more than a million people. The researchers identified 124 genetic variants associated with a person’s willingness to take risks. The study looked at a person’s propensity for “risky behaviors” like smoking, drinking, driving fast, and having multiple sexual partners.

The study is much larger than past genetic research on risk tolerance and risky behavior that relied on data from a few hundred or a few thousand individuals. The researchers used data from about 500,000 23andMe customers who consented to particulate in research. The researchers also took an almost equally large set of data from the UK Biobank.

The focus of the new research looks at genetic influence. The researchers note that environmental, cultural and demographic circumstances play a much more significant role in a person’s tolerance for risk. The study also illustrates that genetics play a small but important role in risk tolerance.

The researchers used a “poly genetic” score that enabled them to capture the combined effect of a million genetic variants to reach an estimate showing that genetics accounts for about 1.6 percent of the variation in risk tolerance across individuals.

The genetic associations point to the role of genes that regulate neurotransmitters such as glutamate and GABA – which are chemical messengers that both stimulate and calm the brain.

Risk tolerance is among the most intensively studied traits in social science, because it plays a role in predicting economic and social outcomes as well as personality measures. The researchers found evidence of shared genetic influences across risk tolerance and risky behaviors.

Johnathan Beauchamp of the SSGAC said, “Genetic variants associated with more risk tolerance tend to also be associated with more speeding, drinking, smoking, and cannabis consumption, and with riskier investments and sexual behavior.”

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* Does the Liberal Gene Run in Your Family?

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