Low on optimism, self-esteem? Blame a gene

Low on optimism, self-esteem? Blame a gene

For the first time, life scientists have identified how a particlular gene may turn on these traits, the three critical psychological resources for coping with stress and depression.
"I have been looking for this gene for a few years, and it is not the gene I expected," said Shelley E. Taylor, professor of psychology at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and senior study author.

The gene that Taylor and colleagues identified is the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR), the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.

Oxytocin is a hormone that increases in response to stress and is associated with good social skills such as empathy and enjoying the company of others, according to an UCLA statement.

"This study is, to the best of our knowledge, the first to report a gene associated with psychological resources," said study author Shimon Saphire-Bernstein, doctoral student in psychology at Taylor's lab.

"However, we wanted to go further and see if psychological resources explain why the OXTR gene is tied to depressive symptoms. We found that the effect of OXTR on depressive symptoms was fully explained by psychological resources."

At a particular location, the oxytocin receptor gene has two versions: an "A" (adenine) variant and a "G" (guanine) variant.

It has been found that people who have either 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.

The findings are "very strong, highly significant," Taylor said.