Could a Gene Be Responsible for Harsh Treatment During Economic Downturns?

First Posted: Aug 07, 2013 10:58 AM EDT

Bleak economic times can bring out the worst in everyone. Credit card debt, student loans, never-ending house and car payments--you name it. It seems like a cyclical routine of fat cats asking for more and more money and yet, somehow, at the end of it all, there's just simply never enough to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, a new study shows that these pressures may actually bring out a genetic trait in some that may stifle their already difficult living circumstances.

Researchers for the study focused on the 'orchid/dandelion gene' that is scientifically known as the DRD2 Taq1A gene. This gene is responsible for controlling dopamine levels in our brain that play a large role in how we regulate certain behaviors. The gene has also been discovered to have a sensitive nature in its reactions depending on environmental circumstances. However, nearly 50 percent of the population have this gene.

"You have the same genes, and with a different environment it's a completely different story," Irwin Garfinkel, professor of contemporary urban problems at Columbia University said, according to NPR. "I think that's the most amazing part of what we found."

Researchers examined mothers who had already enrolled in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. This study looked at approximately 5,000 children who had been born throughout 20 cities from 1998 to 2000. Seventy-five percent of the mothers were unmarried at the time of their children's birth and researchers measured this as "harsh parenting" through various interviews they conducted with children at the ages of one, three, five and nine. They also discovered that there was a 10 percent spike in the unemployment rate that resulted in a 16 percent increase of harsher maternal parenting.

"It was the general economic condition. If you remember the papers back in 2008, newspapers said we were on the way to a great depression and policy makers were scared," Garfinkel said, according to Medical Daily. "It was during that period that harsh parenting increased the most."

"The same gene that makes you look vulnerable in a bad situation makes you do better in a good environment. In a good environment, an orchid flourishes and is beautiful," he added. "But some of us, we're dandelions - we might not thrive, but we can survive in all environments."

What do you think?

More information regarding the study can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 

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