Exceptional luck when you're gambling may just be your genes at work, a new study supposes.
The so-called 'warrior gene' (MAOA-L gene variant) may give its carriers better judgement when confronted with financial risk rather than make them prone to impulsive decisions.
The gene variant is associated with lower production of the enzyme and has been repeatedly linked to risky behaviour, reports Nature.
The new study, led by Cary Frydman at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, used computational probability models to assess the patterns of choices made by the individuals in the study and to distinguish between two ways in which genetics might be influencing such behaviour - by affecting the value assigned to options ('value'), or by affecting the process by which the brain compares the values of two options ('choice').
The approach, Frydman said, was designed to "shed some light on the potential mechanisms in the brain which risk-taking passes through".
Frydman found that MAOA-L carriers opted for the riskier choice in 41 percent of decisions, whereas carriers of MAOA-H did so 36 percent of the time.
The MAOA variant MAOA-H specifies higher levels of the enzyme.
But when faced with a potentially winning gamble, subjects carrying MAOA-L made the optimal choice more often than those with MAOA-H.
In other words, those with the 'warrior gene' weren't making risky financial decisions because they were rash, but because they were adept at rooting out the better choice.
"It shows that risky behaviour is not always counterproductive and it's not always suboptimal," Frydman said.
The study does have limitations. Among these, the authors note that 19 participants were excluded from the computational modelling because, for some at least, the answers were too perfect, suggesting that they were following an 'offline' rule instead of responding instinctively, making it difficult to model their decision-making accurately.