It’s not what you say, but how you say it.
Framing, which is how a situation is presented to us, has a powerful effect on our responses and decisions. We are more likely to take risks (i.e. be more ‘risk-seeking’) if the situation is presented in a negative way and less likely to take the riskier option (i.e. be risk-averse) if the situation is presented positively. In other words, we can’t be confident that we’ll make the same decision every time: how information is presented to us matters, too.
The catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT) gene, which we’ve seen in quite a few previous traits (e.g. Working Memory, Hypnotizability, etc.), is critically important for behavioral tendencies. The COMT gene codes for COMT, one enzyme that breaks down dopamine (the chemical that is involved in the brain’s reward pathway and makes us feel good). A small mutation at a specific locus of this gene leads to the replacement of valine (Val) (one amino acid) with methionine (Met) (another amino acid) when the protein is coded, which ultimately alters dopamine levels. Specifically, those with two copies of the Met variant tend to have 40% decreased enzyme activity compared to those with two copies of the Val variant, which results in higher dopamine levels in the brain. This is important because having the Met variant has been previously associated with mood disorders and being less resilient to negative emotions like anxiety.
So how does this gene relate to framing? In Gao and colleagues’ 2016 study, participants who had at least one copy of the Met variant for the COMT gene were more susceptible to the framing effect than those who had both with Val. The study, which recruited over 100 Chinese college students, involved a gambling task where sets of choices were presented either positively or negatively. Specifically, although the gambling rate increased overall during the negative frame compared to the positive frame, Met carriers (those with at least one copy of the Met variant) were much more willing to take risks than those with two copies of the Val variant. On the other hand, there was no appreciable difference in the gambling rate of the two groups when choices were presented positively. Isn’t that fascinating? To learn more, check out the study here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26917235
How are you likely to fare? Check Genomelink now to discover your genetic predisposition to being affected by framing!
Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash