Scholar looks to genes to make sense of the dollars you invest

March 5, 2013 by Paul Gabrielsen
The researchers found that carriers of a certain genotype were more likely to be anxious before making an investment decision. Credit: Shutterstock

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers say how much risk you're willing to take in your investments may be linked to genetics. The results may help investors understand how emotions affect their choices.

If you get $10,000 to invest, where would you put it? Stocks? Bonds? A savings account?

Your choice may be guided by more than your financial savvy. It could be in your genes.

New research shows a correlation between and -taking. Scientists found that at the prospect of a making an investment, people who have a certain combination of anxiety-generating genes worry, and that worry leads to safer choices.

Stanford psychology Associate Professor Brian Knutson studies how emotions influence decisions. In 2005, Knutson and Stanford Graduate School of Business student Camelia Kuhnen mapped out the brain regions that activated in the face of a . In 2009, Kuhnen, now an associate professor of finance at Northwestern University, linked financial risk-taking to two genes that regulate the "feel-good" neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

Kuhnen and Knutson's new paper, co-authored by Gregory Samanez-Larkin of Vanderbilt University and published recently in PLoS ONE, explains how a serotonin gene connects to real-life . The link, they write, is a person's level of "neuroticism."

Neuroticism, also called "negative affect," is the trait of worriers.

"They tend to always think about the downside of things, always tending to worry about what could go wrong instead of what could go right," Kuhnen said.

The gene is called 5-HTTLPR and comes in two varieties: short and long. Everyone has two copies, or alleles, of the gene, and individual combinations of short and long alleles are called genotypes. Those with two short alleles, the researchers found, displayed more neurotic traits, as measured by an objective psychological assessment.

The researchers asked 60 volunteers from the Bay Area to divvy up $10,000 among three investment options: stocks, bonds or cash. On average, study participants with two short 5-HTTLPR alleles kept 24 percent more of that money in cash than did the two-long-allele carriers, who put more money in stocks.

Knutson and his colleagues had previously measured participants' financial literacy, cognition and income level, but those factors didn't explain the variation in investment strategy. Could the gene explain the variation?

"We found that it did," Knutson said.

Given neurotic participants' propensity to avoid risk, Kuhnen hypothesized that they would react just as strongly to a negative outcome. In unpublished research, Kuhnen watched how participants' brains reacted during a game in which they learned, by trial-and-error, which of two options carried greater financial risk. Short-allele carriers displayed heightened anxiety before making a decision, but reacted no differently than long-allele carriers when they saw a negative outcome.

"The difference between these people is not about how they react to outcomes," Kuhnen said. "It's about how, before the choice, they think about the decision."

So don't worry so much about the worst possible outcome.

"Take a step back," Kuhnen said. "Ask yourself – really, how bad would it be?"

Not all study participants behaved exactly as their genes would predict. Don't rush out to determine whether you (or your employees) have short or long 5-HTTLPR , the team said. The only reason to know, Knutson said, is to understand how your emotions affect your decisions.

"You're not a slave to your genotype," he said. "If you understand how it's influencing your behavior, then you have a shot at changing that behavior."

Explore further: Researchers find genetic link to PTSD

More information: www.plosone.org/article/info:d … journal.pone.0054632

Related Stories

Researchers find genetic link to PTSD

May 15, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- A team of Swiss and German researchers has found that a certain gene allele can be linked to increased emotional memory retention and because of that appears to be a factor in people who suffer from post ...

Recommended for you

Scientists provide insight into genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders

July 21, 2017
A study by scientists at the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) is providing insight into the genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. In this research, the first mouse model of a mutation ...

Scientists identify new way cells turn off genes

July 19, 2017
Cells have more than one trick up their sleeve for controlling certain genes that regulate fetal growth and development.

South Asian genomes could be boon for disease research, scientists say

July 18, 2017
The Indian subcontinent's massive population is nearing 1.5 billion according to recent accounts. But that population is far from monolithic; it's made up of nearly 5,000 well-defined sub-groups, making the region one of ...

Mutant yeast reveals details of the aberrant genomic machinery of children's high-grade gliomas

July 18, 2017
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital biologists have used engineered yeast cells to discover how a mutation that is frequently found in pediatric brain tumor high-grade glioma triggers a cascade of genomic malfunctions.

Late-breaking mutations may play an important role in autism

July 17, 2017
A study of nearly 6,000 families, combining three genetic sequencing technologies, finds that mutations that occur after conception play an important role in autism. A team led by investigators at Boston Children's Hospital ...

Newly discovered gene variants link innate immunity and Alzheimer's disease

July 17, 2017
Three new gene variants, found in a genome wide association study of Alzheimer's disease (AD), point to the brain's immune cells in the onset of the disorder. These genes encode three proteins that are found in microglia, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.