Risk-taking is in the genes
HIGH risk-takers are genetically predisposed to smoke, drink and speed, Adelaide researchers have helped discover in an international study of more than a million people.
The study found 124 DNA variants that also made people more willing to take risks such as long-shot financial investments and risky bedroom behaviours.
Risk-taking behaviour was also genetically associated with conditions including ADHD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. UniSA Professor Elina Hypponen, pictured, who was part of the research team, said it contributed to understanding of how we behave “and to what extent we can or can't really affect that”. Prof Hypponen, also director of the Australian Centre for Precision Health at SAHMRI, said: “It's interesting to know that some of the ways, or the manner in which we respond to risky situations, is slightly beyond our own control and reflective of how our genetic background has been built up.”
But she hoped risk-takers and rule-breakers would not use genes as an excuse in court.
“I think those kinds of examples are already there, where people are using their genetics to try to get reduced sentences, but I don't believe that should let us get away from having a responsibility for our actions,” she said.
“It is just that some people need to be more mindful with respect to their tendencies to respond to a stimulus in a certain manner, compared to others.”
Dr Hypponen is also a member of the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium, an international research effort investigating the influence of genetics on human behaviour and wellbeing, which recently published on the genetic background underlying obesity.
“It is very clear that some people have a stronger genetic predisposition to being obese or overweight but it doesn't mean that there is no personal responsibility, if responsibility is the right word, or that people couldn't do anything about it,” Dr Hypponen said.
“It just means that for some people it's much harder to maintain a normal body weight than it is for others.”
In the risky behaviour study, lead author Assistant Professor Jonathan Beauchamp from the University of Toronto said evidence of shared genetic influences extended to many specific risky behaviours such as speeding, drinking and tobacco and cannabis consumption.
The research is published today in the journal Nature Genetics.