There are some among us who are
blessed with generous doses of optimism and self-esteem. Many of them
fervently believe that they, and only they, are the sole masters of
These individuals are blessed
with three amazing "psychological tools" that help them to cope with
stress -- optimism, self-esteem and "mastery"
over life which is a conviction that one has control over one's own
Now, for the first time,
scientists from UCLA have actually
identified a gene which is responsible
for these three amazing " tools." The gene was identified to be the
oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR). The
hormone Oxytocin, which functions as a brain neurotransmitter has also
referred to as the "love" or "cuddle"
The study was carried out on 326 people who underwent
self-assessments on optimism, self-esteem and mastery through
provided to them. DNA obtained from saliva samples were analyzed in
genotyping center where the variants in OXTR genes were
A clinical psychologists' tool was used to identify
those people at risk
for mental problems, such as depression.
At a particular location, the
oxytocin receptor gene can either have an "A" (adenine) variant or a "G"
(guanine) variant. Studies have indicated that those with two "A"
(AA) or at least one "A" variant along
with one "G" variant (AG) are more prone
to stress, have poorer social
skills and are more likely to suffer
worse mental health outcomes. They also have low levels of
optimism, self-esteem and mastery and
are more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms.
The work is available in the journal 'Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences' (PNAS) in the Sept.13 edition.
Shelley E. Taylor, professor of psychology at UCLA had always believed
that there had to be a gene that controlled psychological attributes. "I
been looking for this gene for a few years, and it is not the gene I
expected," she remarked.
Lead study author Shimon Saphire-Bernstein, a research scholar
in psychology under Taylor said, "This study is, to the best
knowledge, the first to report a gene associated with psychological
However, we wanted to go further and see if psychological resources
the OXTR gene is tied to depressive symptoms. We found that the effect
on depressive symptoms was fully explained by psychological resources."
The study has important
implications. Whether genes influence behavior or not is a topic kept
skeptics. This study has actually confirmed the role of genes in
the way a person reacts to a situation.
However genes are not the end-all
of the way a person handles stress as there is plenty of scope for
through environmental factors such as a happy
childhood, good family and
friends, all of which play a role in shaping the coping ability of a
External influences affect OXTR's function and their
including other genes. Therefore genes can, at best be considered one
set of contributing
factors that contribute to the psychological illnesses.
Prof Taylor finishes on a very
optimistic note she says that even those with "A" variant can learn
overcome depression. These people could benefit immensely by learning to
more optimistic and gaining a better sense of self esteem and by gaining
mastery over the way they conduct their lives.
Oxytocin has for long been
associated with bonding especially between a mother and her new born.
nurturing that a child receives is extremely essential in not only
his ability to cope with life events but also in dealing with the health
he may harbor.
It may be a good idea to identify
other genes and environmental factors that control human behavior.