The DRD4 Gene and Risk Taking

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pexels-photo-132429.jpegJust a few moments after publishing my last article on adventurous eaters, I sat down with a cup of coffee and one of the books I am reading: Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley. The very next pages I read dealt specifically with what I had been writing about. (Don’t you love synchronicity?) This is how I learned about the DRD4 gene.

DRD4 is a dopamine receptor gene. It has repeating sequences in the middle. The theory, according to Ripley, is that the more repeats, the longer the gene. The longer the gene, the more difficult it is for the brain to sense dopamine. According to Psychology Today:

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain‘s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.

So, what scientists have found is that people with the longer gene and more repeats are more likely to be risk takers. It works like this – the brain loves dopamine. However, if you have a longer gene, you might have to take bigger risks to get the same reward as someone with a shorter gene and better receptor.

It immediately made me wonder if this directly relates to adventurous versus non-adventurous eaters. I said yesterday that I don’t “get” picky eaters. But this made it make sense to me. If they get the exact same thrill out of eating something they know and love as I do out of trying something I have never heard of before, let alone able to pronounce, then I absolutely understand!

So, does that make me a risk taker? Maybe. Probably. I don’t think of myself as one. I tend to weigh things out pretty carefully, but ultimately, I follow my gut. However, my boyfriend calls me brave. I am willing to try something or go after something that interests me, even if I make a fool out of myself doing it. It’s not that I am not scared, it’s just that I don’t let fear get in my way very often. I think of my life as rather practical and planned, but comments from my friends tell me they think otherwise!

Obviously, there is a lot at play here. Is it possible I have a reduced capacity to detect dopamine? I think after reading this chapter in Mr. Ripley’s book that it is certainly possible. But, as he makes perfectly clear, there is a lot going on between mind, body, and environment, and nothing is perfectly simple.

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