From religion to politics — here’s how genes influence our preferences

Social media algorithms, artificial intelligence and our own genetics are among the factors affecting us beyond our awareness. This raises an ancient question: do we have control over our own lives? This article is part of the conversation Series on the science of free will.


Many of us believe that we are masters of our own destiny, but new research shows to what extent our behavior is influenced by our genes.

It is now possible that we can understand the sequence of 3.2 billion DNA “letters”, the genetic code of each of our individuals, which creates a blueprint for our brain and body.

This sequence shows how big a biological bias our behavior is, which means that we may be skewed towards developing a particular feature or characteristic. Research has shown that genes may not be our predecessors. The height, Eye color or WeightBut our too Vulnerability to mental health, live long, wisdom And impulsivity. Such traits are of varying degrees, written in our genes – sometimes thousands of genes working in concert.

Most of these genes dictate how the circuitry of our brain is kept in the womb, and how it functions. We can now See a child’s brain as it is made up, Even 20 weeks before birth. Circuitry changes exist in his brain Strongly correlated with genes It predicts for autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He also predicted for this Conditions He may not emerge for decades: bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia.


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Increasingly we are faced with the possibility that predictions for more complex behaviors are similarly wired into our brains. Contains Which religion do we choose, How we Build our political ideologies, And even how we build ours Friendship group.

Nature and nutrition are interlinked

Apart from being inscribed in our DNA, there are other ways that our life stories can be passed down from generation to generation.

“Epigenetics” is a relatively new field of science, which describes how there can be a difference between nature and nature. It does not appear to be a change in the gene itself, but rather depends on the “tag” that is put on the gene by life experience, which changes the way our genes are expressed.

A 2014 study Observed epigenetic changes in mice. Mice love the sweet smell of cherries, so when a waft reaches their nostrils, a pleasure zone in the brain is light, causing them to panic around and succumb to healing. The researchers decided to pair this scent with a mild electric shock, and the mice learned to freeze in anticipation.


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The study found that this new memory was transmitted over generations. The grandchildren of the mice were afraid of cherries, even though they did not experience electric shock. Dada’s sperm DNA changed its shape, changing a blueprint of experience in the gene.

This is ongoing research and novel science, so questions remain as to how these mechanisms may apply to humans. But preliminary results suggest that epigenetic changes can affect descendants of extremely traumatic events.

One study showed that the sons of American Civil War prisoners had one 11% higher death rate by their mid-40s. Another small study showed epigenetic changes in the genes of the Holocaust survivors and their children. Is associated with its level of cortisol, A hormone involved in the stress response. This is a complex picture, but the results suggest that descendants have higher pure cortisol levels and are therefore more susceptible to anxiety disorders.


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Do we have any scope for free will?

Of course, it is not just the case that our lives are set in stone by the brain we produce, the DNA given to us by our parents, and the memories passed through our grandparents.

Thankfully, there is still room for change. As we learn, New connections are formed between nerve cells. As new skills are practiced, or relieved by learning, the connection is strengthened and learning is consolidated into a memory. If memory is observed repeatedly, it will become the default pathway for electrical signals in the brain, meaning that learned behavior becomes habitual.

For example, ride a bike. We don’t know how to ride when we are born, but through trial and error, and a few small accidents along the way, we can learn to do it.


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The same principles form the basis for both perception and navigation. We make and strengthen neural connections as we move around our environment and our perception of space that surrounds us.

But there is a catch: Sometimes our past learning blinds us to future truths. Watch the video below – we are biased towards everyone See faces in our environment. This preference tells us that shadow cues ignore us because it is the end of a mask. Instead, we rely on tried and tested pathways within our minds, creating the image of another face.

You probably won’t see that Albert Einstein’s face is the back of a mask instead of the front, because our brains are biased to see faces in our environment.

This confusion shows how difficult it can be to change our mind. Our identities and expectations are based on past experiences. It can take a lot of cognitive energy to break the structures in our brain.

Elegant machinery

As I found in my latest book published last year, Science of luck, This research touches one of life’s biggest mysteries: our personal capacity for choice.

To me, there is something beautiful about seeing myself as elegant machinery. Input from the world is processed in our unique mind which produces our behavior.

However, many of us do not want to abandon the idea of ​​being free agents. Biological determinism, the idea that human behavior is completely innate, troubles people. It is disgusting to think that sinister acts in our history were ended by those who were powerless to stop them, because it made the viewer think that they might happen again.

Maybe instead, we can think of ourselves Not being banned By our genes. Having accepted biology that affects our personality can empower us to harness our collective cognitive capacity to improve our strengths and improve the world.chit chat

By this article Hannah Crichlow, A science outreach fellow at Magdalene College, University of CambridgeRepublished from chit chat Under a Creative Commons license. read the Original article.