27 October 2010

Genetic Evidence For "W" Traits

An earlier post at this blog noted a study showing that IQ does not itself explain grades in school and hypothesizing a "W" factor (for work ethic) that might explain some of the variation.

A new study looked at three dopamine system genes (previously associated with conditions including ADHD) that may explain some of that "W" factor.

[The study examined] DNA and lifestyle data from a representative group of 2,500 U.S. middle- and high-school students who were tracked from 1994 to 2008 in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

“We found that as the number of certain dopaminergic gene variants increased, grade point averages decreased, and the difference was statistically significant . . . For example, the GPA of a student with specific variants of three dopaminergic genes might be around 2.8, versus a GPA of around 3.3 without the variants. . . . they found a marginally significant negative effect on English grades for students with a single dopamine variant in a gene known as DAT1, but no apparent effect on math, history or science. In contrast, a variant in the DRD2 gene was correlated with a markedly negative effect on grades in all four subjects. Students with a single, DRD4 variant had significantly lower grades in English and math, but only marginally lower grades in history and science.

None of the dopamine genes are associated with IQ (and here).


Maju said...

If it's dopamine then it's related to rewards and how these motivate the subject. For instance I'm highly unmotivated by the usual ones like money but for most people this seems to work instead.

However notice that DRD2 was also detected as most relevant in transmission of musical abilities in a Finnish study, along with other genes such as AVPR1A, KMT, etc.

In the extremes I'd say that there's people motivated by selfish rewards like money, status... and people motivated by pure interest in the subject. These are most different motivations: the first one will push ahead with degrees even in the worst situations but the overall knowledge will be shallow because the subject of study is not the main interest but a mere tool for other purposes. The second group will only be interested in learning voraciously and mostly uninterested in grades and rewards. If they make it, they will be the most knowlegedable ones but they are not likely to overcome most of the obstacles.

I would not call this "work ethics" but mere ambition/greed. This same group is surely more likely to become corrupt etc., because their only motivation seems to be income, not ethics of any sort.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

While this read of what dopamine is doing seems plausible, the behavioral phenotypes associated with the dopamine system genes in these cases are disorganization, lack of self-discipline, and intense desire to seek out novel situations which can undermine pursuits that take routine practicing to hone.

Put another way, dopamine system problems tend to translate into pursuit of more intense pleasure since modest successes don't prove those people with the same rewards.

Ambition and greed are probably poor ways to describe the lack of these markers, and altruism is probably a poor description of their presence.

Ambition and the value on places on money over other ends has relevance, surely, but I think it is far to say anecdotally, that these values have more to do with a growing up poor than they do with any inborn trait.

Maju said...

"I think it is far to say anecdotally, that these values have more to do with a growing up poor than they do with any inborn trait".

I do not know. I know a lot of people raised in very modest circumstances that do not worship money at all. In fact poor people tend to be less greedy in my experience, though a lot depends on the environment (i.e. urban settings are unfavorable for sharing).

They may be more adaptative, accepting less more easily (have lower expectations), but I do not think they are greedy at all (generally speaking, as this traits varies a lot between individuals).

I do suspect that there is a type of personality that covets wealth particularly (and doesn't mind cheating, not just against authority but against anybody) and I also think it's a psychopathic type of personality in the sense that, if left free reign, can destroy a whole society. I can't say how strongly this personality is defined by genes, epigenetics or mere psycho-social factors but it does exist and makes our lives more sour than they should be.

"disorganization, lack of self-discipline".

What happens when you can perfectly be self-disciplined for matters that provide you no wealth or grades?

I think that the key issue here is what does actually motivates people and often it's not money, status or grades.

Maju said...

You may want also to check this news item: emotional intelligence and job performance are closely tied.