The Warrior Gene


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Monoamine oxidase A is simply an enzyme encoded by the MAO-A gene. However, when mutated, it becomes something that seems like it should belong in a movie. The mutation of MAO-A can result in a gene commonly known as the "Warrior Gene". This gene, only found in certain people, can affect things such as aggressive behaviordecision making, violence, and even crime. Found at high levels in patients with major depressive disorder, this enzyme seems to have close ties with hormonal related aspects.

After its discovery, research suggested that a correlation existed between those with low MAO-A activity and aggression. Upon this realization, it was deemed the "Warrior Gene". Studies show that after provocation, those with the Warrior Gene will become significantly aggressive according to Brown University professor Rose McDermott. As we've learned in our history classes, all ancient warfare occurred on the eastern side of the globe. The data found based on the Warrior Gene supports this fact. Of those tested, only about one-third of 'western' people contained this gene while almost two-thirds of the 'eastern' people tested carried it. McDermott believes that, similar to aggression, this gene also shows increased violent activity. This type of behavior, McDermott says, could be labeled as a conduct disorder. Whether or not a disorder exists, the correlation is certainly there. Even the smallest of provocation could result in aggressive, violent behavior. Discoveries like this are fuel to the fire that is the evolution debate.

Other studies suggest that this aggressive behavior is not a result of the gene. Instead, it only assists in "risky decision-making" according to studies conducted at the California Institute of Technology. These studies gave over 80 men theoretical choices. Basically, the decisions they were forced to hypothetically make gave them a safe and a risky option. The results showed that there was no differentiation between those with the gene and those without it. Instead, they were able to look at the way in which each person made their decision based on the options given. Those with the Warrior Gene were seemingly better at making a decision based on risk/reward. Cary Frydman, one of the professors at California Institute of Technology, described it as "If two gamblers are counting cards, and one is making a lot of bets, it may look like he's more aggressive or impulsive. But you don't know what cards he's counting - he may just be responding to good opportunities."

Regardless of whether this mutation of the MAO-A gene results in aggression/violence, better decision-making, or both, it clearly has an effect on behavior. I began thinking about how this applies to me. I'm not very aggressive and I tend to have trouble making decisions, so does this mean my ancestors weren't "warriors"? The correlation between east vs. west gene carriers says a lot about its relation to evolution. I never thought my passive personality was a result of my ancestors from thousands of years ago. Are some naturally destined for a life of warfare with this gene? I think it would be interesting to see data collected in the military to see how many soldiers carry this gene. What does the evolution of this gene improve over time? The ability to focus aggression on a singular target? If this were the case, I'm sure there would be a significant amount of defensive players in the NFL that carry this gene. Do some of the world's most powerful leaders carry this gene? Being president of the United States certainly requires exceptional decision-making, and a hint of aggression, especially being a nation currently at war. As I continue to pose these questions, it seems that this gene has a stronger influence on us than I originally thought. The "Warrior Gene" could be an essential ingredient in the path to success.






2 Comments

I've actually wondered about this before, but never knew I was contemplating it. When I see people walk home in the earlier hours of Friday morning, their actions are usually unpredictable. Some of them are extremely inebriated and looking for a "war", perhaps because of the alcohol, or perhaps because of the gene. Certain types of people will say or do something around me and I can't help but think, "Under no circumstance in this life or the next, would I think to say or do what he just did." Does this mean I don't have the warrior gene? Or does it mean I possess it in another capacity?

This is very interesting. I've heard of the warrior gene but two thirds of the 'eastern' people possessing the gene raises an eyebrow. Of course people from the same geographic area will share common genes in their DNA. Most of the ancient warfare fought in the eastern part of Asia because that's where civilization started, thus a higher concentration of people. I understand our genes physically make up who we are, but unwarranted aggression is simply someone who isn't in control of their emotions. This trait is typically found in younger people or in emotionally underdeveloped adults.

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