Delay discounting’ is the tendency, given the choice, to take a smaller reward that is available immediately, instead of a larger reward that will be delivered in the future. According to a report presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual meeting in Hollywood, Florida, delay discounting is strongly influenced by our genetic makeup. That is, it is a trait that can be inherited. Identifying the ‘delay discounting’ genes, and the proteins they code for, will be important for understanding the basis of a variety of psychiatric disorders, especially addictions and other disorders that involve impulsive decision-making.
In a study of 602 twins, Dr. Andrey Anokhin and his colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine found that delay discounting gradually improves as teens get older, such that 18 year-olds have a greater ability or tendency to wait for the larger delayed reward, as compared to younger teens. Apart from age, genes accounted for about half of the difference among individuals in their level of delay discounting. Many genes are likely to influence delay discounting; and some of Dr. Ahokhin’s preliminary data suggest that these ‘impulsivity genes’ may include genes coding for enzymes that synthesize the neurotransmitter serotonin and receptors where serotonin binds in the brain. More.
Apparently, it is too soon to consider clinical applications.
We’re guessing there is way more to this. For one thing, what role does acting on impulse play in a person’s well-being? People who live in chaotic and dangerous situations (or whose recent ancestors have, cf epigenetics) may be inclined to make impulsive decisions because circumstances have not warranted much planning, forethought, or introspection. And many children get adopted precisely because that is the sort of environment they are from.
Epigenetics threw a horseshoe into the Gene Machine, and—while this sort of research is worthwhile—it may take decades to figure out what it actually means, never mind how to apply it in medicine.
No really, it gets better. Here at our highly sophisticated Uncommon Descent Genetic Research Lab, we have made a revolutionary discovery that will enshrine genetic determinism forever if only we can market it: We have discovered the Jackass Gene. You got it, fella? You’re a genuine jackass! That’s your problem in life.
As it happens, there was only one student volunteer in our study, and he cried for an hour when he got the results (phoned his girlfriend in Manila and stuck the bill with her), then wrecked the lab, and borrowed money from us for a taxi and never paid us back.
It must be his genes. But we need to clean up all the broken glass before we can even think of publishing anything.
See also: Do twins inherit an equal amount of “smartness”? No, apparently. Lifestyle choices matter too, especially exercise.
There’s a gene for that… or is there? (Now, you ask? Um, nope.)
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