Positive psychologists have claimed in the last twenty years that we are born with a happiness set point. Therefore our happiness will ebb and flow as we experience joy and sadness, however we will inevitably shift back to the level with which we are born. Now a new study by a University of British Columbia research finds that a previously known gene variant can cause individuals to perceive emotional events—especially negative ones—more vividly than others.
“This is the first study to find that this genetic variation can significantly affect how people see and experience the world,” says Prof. Rebecca Todd of UBC’s Dept. of Psychology. “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.”
The gene in question is the ADRA2b deletion variant, which influences the hormone and neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Previously found to play a role in the formation of emotional memories, the new study shows that the ADRA2b deletion variant also plays a role in real-time perception.
The study’s 200 participants were shown positive, negative and neutral words in a rapid succession. Participants with the ADRA2b gene variant were more likely to perceive negative words than others, while both groups perceived positive words better than neutral words to an equal degree.
“These individuals may be more likely to pick out angry faces in a crowd of people,” says Todd. “Outdoors, they might notice potential hazards – places you could slip, loose rocks that might fall – instead of seeing the natural beauty.”
The findings shed new light on ways in which genetics – combined with other factors such as education, culture, and moods – can affect individual differences in emotional perception and human subjectivity, the researchers say.
Originally published on Sanity Break on Everyday Health.