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Research Suggests that Vulnerability Genes Can Lead to Positive Outcomes as Much as Negative Outcomes

There is some truth to the saying that your environment makes you who you are. More specifically, some individuals carry ‘vulnerability genes’ that indicate that they are genetically vulnerable individuals that are more likely to become impulsive and hyperactive if their mothers smoked while pregnant; to exhibit anti-social behaviors if abused as a child; and depressed if exposed to many negative life events.

A recent piece in Science Daily examines new gene by environment (GXE) research published in Molecular Psychiatry that suggests that those who carry these genes are also more likely to benefit from positive environments. This characteristic makes these individuals more malleable or plastic, instead of just vulnerable.

“Our analysis of many published findings suggests that one potential solution to the nature-nurture controversy is to appreciate the role played by environmental experience and the role played by heredity in shaping who we are may actually differ across people,” said Professor Jay Belsky, Director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at Birkbeck, University of London Belsky.

“Some people have genes which make them more malleable than others, and therefore more susceptible to both positive and negative environmental influences. Indeed, those children most adversely affected by poor environmental conditions are often the very same ones who benefit most from good environments. In contrast, other individuals appear to be rather immune to such environmental effects.”

These findings suggest that a more personal approach to psychosocial interventions may be more appropriate in treating those people affected. Prof Belsky suggests that this research could help to mirror the trend toward personalized medicine, where the individual’s genetic make-up determines the type of drugs necessary to treat their condition.

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