Monday, August 8

Being optimistic or pessimistic, does it depend on genes?


Optimism is “an excellent protector of our health and satisfaction with life. This was pointed out by the psychiatrist Luis Rojas-Marcos, of Seville origin but who has lived in the United States for more than five decades and who has dedicated a good part of his career to studying the effects and importance of positive thinking.

The also psychiatrist Susan Vaughan has pointed out that optimism has the character of a self-fulfilling prophecy: “Optimistic people imagine that they will achieve what they want, they persevere, and others respond well to their enthusiasm. This attitude gives them an advantage in the field of health, love, work and play, which in turn confirms his optimistic prediction”.

On the other hand, pessimistic people get discouraged and lower their arms more quickly: it is much harder for them to overcome adversity and recover from the blows of life. That is why, to be people, the future is often clouded by the lack of hope.

The American psychologist Martin Seligman – one of the main promoters of the so-called positive psychology– defined what for him is the most important difference between optimistic and pessimistic people: the way of explain the reality”, everyday life.

Optimists, according to Seligman, when hit by some adversity, tend to take it as a transient problem. Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to feel that the effects of the blows are permanent. The former limit or compartmentalize the consequences of failures; the latter feel their entire person affected.

This also influences how you move forward. Optimism helps to see solutions for errors and accept them as part of learning. For pessimistic people, guilt often overwhelms them and prevents them from seeing the way out.

The role of genetics on optimism

An important question then arises: Are you born optimistic? Or does everything depend on learning? Experts point out that both variables exert their influence. Numerous studies in recent years indicate that the role of genes in this matter is fundamental.

In the speech thanks for the doctorate honorary cause awarded by the University of Burgos in 2015, Rojas-Marcos stated that “positive thinking is programmed in our genetic baggage and it is part of the human instinct of conservation”.

“The power of genes over our personality is clearly shown in twins”, the specialist pointed out. Monozygotic twins, who possess exactly the same genes because they arise from the same original cell, “are statistically alike in their optimistic or pessimistic disposition”.

In what way do genes influence -in the words of Rojas-Marcos- “the tendency to focus on things and the vicissitudes of life through a lens that accentuates the positives”? Some of the main findings of recent years are detailed below.

Genes, optimism and well-being

A study suggested that one of the keys lies in a gene called 5-HTTLPR, better known as the “serotonin transporter.” It is a gene that plays a fundamental role in the accumulation of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood (and is often called the “happiness hormone”).

During the research, 2,574 Americans in their twenties and thirties were asked how satisfied they were with their lives. Their responses were then compared with the variation in the promoter region of the gene in question, which can be of two types: longer or shorter.

The result was that people with the “long version” of the gene reported “significantly higher levels of Satisfaction with life” compared to the responses of the other group (however, jobs by the same team stressed that more research was needed to confirm these data).

Another gene that would be involved in this issue is the so-called SNP rs53576, better known as the “oxytocin receptor” (OXTR). Oxytocin is the so-called “love hormone”, which the body generates in situations such as sexual intercourse, caresses or signs of affection between parents and children.

In a analysis Based on data from 326 people, US scientists found a link between a variant of OXTR – known as the A allele – and lower levels of optimism, self-esteem and self-confidence. Consequently, such a genetic variant was also associated with “depressive symptomatology”.

A third notable variant is the one that affects the ADRA2b gene, which influences the activity of norepinephrine, a substance that the body releases in response to stress. Its effects were evaluated by scientists from several Canadian universities.

People with this variant -according to the conclusions of the research– tend to be more susceptible to intrusive memories after trauma and a “more pronounced emotional reserve for negative elements”. That is, a tendency for your view of things is more pessimistic.

For the rest, one review of studies which worked with data from almost 300,000 people -and in which almost 200 scientists participated- detected the existence of three genetic variants associated with subjective well-being.

According to Norwegian researchers, meanwhile, up to 40% of the variation in “general happiness” (i.e. subjective well-being and life satisfaction) explained by genetic influences.

What does not depend on genes

Of course, as noted, genetics is only part of the equation. It explains a certain tendency or predisposition to see the world and its circumstances in a certain way. But it is not all. learning and activities They have a lot of influence over the rest.

According to Luis Rojas-Marcos, “genetic baggage plays a more decisive role in a person’s pessimism than in optimism. It follows from this that the environment in which we grow up, the experiences we live and our learning have a greater impact on our level of optimism than pessimism.”

That is why “it is more effective to invest in strategies aimed at increase our positive outlook of things than in measures aimed at changing our pessimistic beliefs”, according to the testimony of the specialist.

What strategies can serve to increase that positive vision? Some are simple and not at all surprising: avoid anxiety and excessive stress, rest and sleep well, respect a healthy diet, do physical activity. Beyond genetic trends, these factors help to have a more optimistic view of the world.

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