Variations in Oxytocin Gene Influence Optimism
September 14, 2011
Shelley Taylor, the UCLA psychologist who identified the "tend and befriend" response, says the gene that produces the oxytocin receptor is responsible for influencing self-esteem, optimism and a sense of mastery.
This isn't so surprising, because oxytocin seems to produce most of the positive social emotions -- as well as some less positive ones.
According to the UCLA press office:
At a particular location, the oxytocin receptor gene has two versions: an "A" (adenine) variant and a "G" (guanine) variant. Several studies have suggested that people with at least one "A" variant have an increased sensitivity to stress, poorer social skills and worse mental health outcomes.The researchers found that people who have either two "A" nucleotides or one "A" and one "G" at this specific location on the oxytocin receptor gene have substantially lower levels of optimism, self-esteem and mastery and significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms than people with two "G" nucleotides.
Taylor stressed that genetic variations do not "cause" depression or poor mental health. As I discussed in my book, there's direct scientific evidence from rodents and indirect evidence in humans that early nurturing -- and perhaps a baby's experience of labor and birth -- can influence the proliferation and sensitivity of oxytocin receptors.
Also, please don't forget that our brains can change throughout our lives through positive experiences.
Researchers have found that lower expression of the oxytocin receptor gene (in other words, fewer receptors) was linked to menstrual pain. And differences in expression of the OXTR gene may be linked to autism.