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I'm tired of seeing every single study on supposed connections between gene variants and human behavior hyped by the popular press, science TV shows, and sometimes the scientists who produced the data themselves. I cringe whenever I read about the :"gay gene", the "god gene", the "liberal gene", etc. I'm in the field of genetics/genomics, perhaps that's why I react so strongly to this sort of reports. Behavior is complex. Behavioral traits are not going to be transmitted by simple Mendelian genetics (one gene = one trait); many genes are likely to be involved, plus innumerable genetic factors, plus, epigenetics, plus cultural context, etc. I know it feels nice to simplify to feel comfortable about certain knowledge, but this tendency with regards to genetics and behavior is counterproductive and dangerous. Imagine if social policy was dictated buy flimsy data or oversimplifications.


John Horgan over at Scientific American wrote an excellent blog on this, prompted this time by "the warrior gene". Read it. All. Carefully. And remember it next time people claim they identified the gene for this or that behavior. Note specifically how racial issues rear their ugly head in the context of the "warrior gene". Guess which race or ethnic group is "genetically primed" for violence, according to racist groups, of course. Depressing.


Code rage: The "warrior gene" makes me mad! (Whether I have it or not)

Mel Gibson in the film BraveheartJust when you think the blame-it-on-our-genes craze can't get worse, the "warrior gene" goes viral. The latest media outlet to flog it is the Dr. Phil show, which on April 4 broadcast "Born to Rage?". From the promo: "Scientists believe they may know why some people are quicker to anger than others. A new study suggests that inside a rageaholic's DNA, 'a warrior gene' may be pulling the strings. Could today's guests be genetically predisposed to fits of fury?"

Dr. Phil, a psychologist whose real name is Phil McGraw, presented three "rageaholics"—including Lori, a self-described "Tasmanian devil," and Scott, a reality-TV star and "bully"—as well as Rose McDermott, a political scientist at Brown University and warrior gene researcher. McDermott claimed that the warrior gene, which occurs in about 30 percent of the population, makes you more likely to engage in "physical aggression".

Dr. Phil had the rageaholics tested, and guess what? They all had the warrior gene! "This is information to know that you are more susceptible, at risk for, and predisposed—like someone who is fair-skinned and will burn more readily in the sun," Dr. Phil sagely informed his guests. "It doesn't mean they need to go through life sunburned. They take precautions to protect against that." The Tasmanian devil sighed, "It's a relief there's something linked to this anger, and it's not brought on because I want to do it."

Dr. Phil's Web site links to a company called FamilyTreeDNA, "the leading direct-to-consumer DNA testing company in the world. " Send a cheek scraping to the company and it will tell you if you have the warrior gene for $69—$99 if you don't go through Dr. Phil's Web site.

This cheesy talk show is hardly alone in hyping the warrior gene. In fact, Dr. Phil borrowed his headline from a recent National Geographic broadcast, "Born to Rage?", which also explores "the disturbing possibility that some people are born to rage." The show follows Henry Rollins, a self-described former punk rocker with a nasty temper, as he interviews "outlaw bikers, mixed–martial arts fighters" and other tough guys and, once again, McDermott. ABC News jumped on the bandwagon last December with an interview with McDermott, who stated: "In many, many studies [the warrior gene] appears implicated in behaviors that look like they're related to physical aggression or some kind of conduct disorder."


Read the rest here.

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Paradoxically, I don't think people who are prone to rage make very good warriors at all...
That is an interesting point, Bill. Assuming of course, that such a thing as the "warrior gene" exists.
I'm not a big fan of these single gene theories. I imagine a whole suite of characteristics related to many, many genes contribute to our often warlike nature. On the other hand, my wife often tells me that I have the "thrill gene". There certainly are quantifiable differences in personality, but I assume the explanation will be more complex than a single gene. Environment must play an important roll as well.
No doubt some genes may have a bigger impact than other genes on overall behavior, even for polygenic traits, but it drives me crazy when complex issues are simplified with the gene for this and the gene for that. It's misleading. And of course everyone forgets about the environment, and other biological processes such as epigenetics. Talking about THE gene is more sensationalist, I suppose. Especially if you give them cute catchy names like "the risk gene", the "warrior gene", the "gay gene", etc.

They don't because to be a good warrior you have to remain cool calm and collected while he is fighting to ensure his own survival. Anger blinds you to the intention of your opponent and so you make fatal mistakes. If he does have anger then he uses that to motivate him to continue on with his fight for what ever reason it is.

I wouldn't bet on that one.

Dr. Phil is an idiot.
Do you mean if I think these stories of one gene=one behavior is becoming a meme? It could well be!

As far as I understand, I meme is just a cultural unit that gets passed down, it's a cute name that rhymes with gene. It's not really scientific in my opinion. The selfish Gene is very outdated; I would rather recommend The Greatest show On Earth.


Regarding homosexuality, it's not clear at all if there are genes involved, epigenetics, environment, etc. Human sexual behavior is complex behavior, sexual preference would never be coded by 1 gene, which is why no "gay gene" has been found.

I understand Meme to be something that passed down culturally. Stress (of a pregnant mother), nutrition, and exposure to environmental hazards such as poisons and microbes have more influence on individual development than genetics.

Dr. Phil's show is simple entertainment - on par with the Jerry Springer show, or The Doctors. Like a Twinkie - they may be filling but don't have any substance.

I've seen three tweets today related this topic. Dr. Linada Van Den Berg is one name that I remember reading. Apparently she's written something lately on the epigenetic contributors to canine behavior. I was too lazy to look it up.
Link? :-)


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