Can you blame your parents for being a ‘drama queen’?

The ADRA2b gene variant can cause individuals to perceive emotional event, especially negative ones, more vividly than others (image source)

The ADRA2b gene variant can cause individuals to perceive emotional event, especially negative ones, more vividly than others (image source)

I’m using the term ‘drama queen’ for both genders by the way, it’s not just a female issue as the name implies, but we all know those people who seem to blow things out of all proportion, who overreact to a negative situation as if its much worse that it actually is and those who are eternal pessimists.

The question is, do certain types of people thrive from creating drama around themselves or is it a learned behaviour determined by our upbringing and surroundings?

New research published in the journal of neuroscience strengthens the hypothesis that different people see the world differently and that genetics could influence how sensitive you are to emotional information in addition to environmental factors that shape your childhood.
Research by Assistant Professor Rebecca Todd at UBC looked at the ADRA2b deletion variant gene which is present in around 3154% of Caucasians, 12% of African Americans, 35% of Japanese and 44% of Chinese to see if the presence of the variant had any effect on how people felt about emotional images.

The influence of ADRA2b showed up in neural measures of emotionally enhanced vividness through brain scans (modified from source)

The influence of ADRA2b showed up in neural measures of emotionally enhanced vividness through brain scans (modified from source)

The group found that those carrying the variant gene seemed to perceive positive and negative images more vividly when asked, which also showed up during brain scans as heightened activity in regions of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and evaluating both pleasure and threats.

The study involved asking participants to estimate the amount of pixelation (or how fuzzy an image seemed) with the images containing positive, neutral or negative content.  Carriers of the deletion variant consistently estimated lower levels of noise on the positive and negative images which indicated emotionally enhanced vividness as they saw them more clearly.  They also showed significantly more brain activity on scans when viewing the images related to strong positive or negative emotional relevance.

Examples of images from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) that may have been shown to participants to invoke emotion (source)

Examples of images from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) that may have been shown to participants to invoke emotion (source)

The pictures used for the study were taken from the internet and the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) and contained content that would arouse both highly positive and highly negative emotions as well as a set of neutral photographs to act as a control.

This new research continues previous work the same group carried out where 200 participants were shown positive, negative and neutral words in a rapid succession. Those with the ADRA2b gene variant were more likely to perceive negative words than others, while both groups perceived positive words better than neutral words to an equal degree.

The consequence of ADRA2b deletion carriers perceiving emotional aspects of the world more vividly leads to a physical response as they influence the activity of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin which relate to our mood and fight or flight response.

Such emotionally enhanced perception may in part explain why deletion carriers are susceptible to intrusive memories following trauma such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and implies some people may be genetically predisposed to see the world more darkly wearing the opposite of rose tinted glasses.

To watch the video click here

To watch the video click here

As your parents pass on their genetics to you, I guess carriers of this gene variant could blame their parents, but it takes more than just a gene to affect behaviour and neuroplasticity means that through brain training techniques research shows we can choose to think more positively about situations and see the glass as half full rather than half empty.

I chatted about this topic live on the Paul Henry Breakfast show this morning, to watch the video click on the image.

 

 

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