The optimism gene

Being an optimist has been linked to a range of positive outcomes for your body and your mind. We are constantly being encouraged to look on the bright side. Seeing the glass as half full however, may be easier for some than others. New research has identified a gene that is linked to optimism.

In the study 326 people were brought into a laboratory and completed questionnaires designed to gauge their level of optimism, self-esteem, and self-mastery. Then subjects also completed a test designed to estimate their disposition to depression. The researchers then obtained saliva samples from the subjects and tested their DNA for variations in their oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR).

Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes trust and empathy. The oxytocin receptor has two versions: the “A” version (adenine) and the “G” version (guanine). Previous research has found that people with at least one “A” version of the OXTR gene are more sensitive to stress, have poorer social skills, and worse mental health outcomes.

In this study it was found that people who have two “A” versions or one “A” and one “G” have significantly lower levels of optimism, self-esteem, and self mastery (these three qualities are psychological resources associated with combating stress and depression). They also had significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms than people with two “G” versions.

Do not despair though if you are a double “A”. Even these researchers make the point that even those people with the double “A” could learn coping skills.

Genes are not destiny: carve that on your bed-head and make it part of your homepage.

A specific gene does not necessarily mean a specific outcome unless you are talking about simple phenomena such as eye colour. When it comes to complex things like behaviour genes are only one component of outcomes. There are many factors like parenting, relationships, friendships, and even other genes that influence your disposition.

So while it is interesting that a gene has been found that links to optimism, it is even more interesting to contemplate that how that gene is expressed is at your discretion. Genes only lay out a tendency template: you are master of your fate and captain of your soul.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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