Genes Predispose Some People to Focus on the Negative


Unknown-1Positive 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.

Share this:

Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

More about me...




February 23, 2024
November 24, 2023
Everything Is Grace: Cultivating Gratitude From a Greater Altitude
June 11, 2023
Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You
May 20, 2023
Please Let Me Cry
February 16, 2023
Love Being Loving

Related Posts

7 Responses
  1. I have read these studies as well. I thing the last paragraph is the “take-away.” Otherwise, we make way too many excuses for ourselves. If everyone used their genes as a yardstick, no one would ever be responsible for bad behavior. It’s good to know this but it’s better to know that we are all people who can make conscious choices every day to rise above what life has genetically dealt us.

  2. Ammie

    Thank heaven I am from a generation that does not make excuses for bad behavior. Sad to say this is nothing more than THEORY done by a group who by self serving pardoning there own behaviors & puts it in print …. That’s all to it. No wonder every second young person you meet has some form of mental health issues or have estranged there parents. Lets get real & face some facts with good old fashion TRUTH and stop indulging in just THEORY. What do you know of Rebecca Todd personal life? Lets get some family values back & stop this witch hunt looking for bad parents but there are more good parents. This is a fact not a myth.

  3. Riley

    This article has nothing to do with bad behavior. It does not equate depression or other mental health conditions with bad behavior nor, for that matter, does it blame parents for passing on their genetic material.

    The article is about differences in our tendencies to have a positive or negative outlook on life. We all know people who seem naturally vulnerable to worry and stress, and others who can more easily look at the bright side of any situation. Some of this has to do with our life circumstances and experiences, but I do believe that it also has a genetic component. Studies like this are important because the more we understand about mental health conditions like depression, the less likely we are to stigmatize it, or to feel guilty or ashamed if we suffer from it. Which also means those who suffer from depression and similar conditions are more likely to seek treatment.

  4. Ammie

    It’s true some people more positive or negative than others and some just worry & get stressed more than others. But is it not also true some make repeated make poor judgement & make bad choices, consequently have more worries? Should people who repeatedly make bad judgement be labeled as well into another genetic component box?

    Of course depression is real. Some go through a harder time then others & some become depression sympathizers & wound collector. The depression sympathizers are the ones who are draining the system & causing havoc. Yes, genetic plays a roll how we turn our but up to a point.

    1. Ivanka

      Wow. People seem to be interjecting something into this study that is just not there. The study simply demonstrates that some people are genetically predisposed to negative thought patterns. That’s it. There is nothing more sinister afoot. This is science, not polemics. Take a (sanity) break.

  5. Cathleen

    I appreciate the information from this study as an opportunity to understand myself and others better. Certainly it needs to be combined with other studies to get as full a picture as possible of depression, but it is one source of information. People are so complex that it is difficult to know exactly why any particular person makes the choices that s/he makes, but certainly genetics is one component. We seldom know all the burdens, genetic or otherwise, that any other person is laboring under. After going through times when I knew I deserved applause for getting up in the morning because it was so difficult for me, I became a firm believer in assuming that people are doing the best they can. That doesn’t mean I would let myself or anyone else be victimized, but I try, though I fail more often than I would like, to extend the compassion that I have needed to have extended to me.