Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dopamine Receptor Allele Associated With Bad Behavior

In an article in the upcoming issue of Science, Genetically Determined Differences in Learning from Errors, German scientists show that there are people out there who literally cannot learn from their mistakes. There is a mutation in a dopamine receptor that is associated with such behaviors as inability to learn from one's mistakes, drug addiction, obesity, and compulsive behaviors. They report that this "suggests some insensitivity to negative consequences of self-destructive behavior. This might be linked to a general deficit in learning from errors. Here, we report patterns of brain activity underlying a reduced ability to use negative feedback for avoidance learning in carriers of the A1 allele. Our findings suggest a genetically driven change in the dynamic interaction of performance monitoring and long-term memory formation." Thus, these behaviors seem to be associated with problems with memory, and is related too with the brain's self-reward system. In this case, it seems the brain cannot reward itself properly.

All of which raises the question of what one is supposed to do when you have someone with this allele (mutated gene). Are we to just throw up our hands and say, well they can't help it. It's in their genes. Well, the brain behavior, and their relationship with the genes is not so clear-cut as that. The brain has many different pathways and subroutines that act as ways to bypass problems. What we need to figure out, then, is what sorts of stimuli will such people respond to? How can they be educated to restructure their brains to overcome these problems? That is what you do when you educate, after all: restructure brains. One hopes that these kinds of issues will be raised in light of this kind of research rather than falling on it as an excuse for bad behavior. These kinds of genetic differences only make some things more difficult for some people -- it does not nor should it excuse bad behavior. It just means we have to figure out how to educate such people to overcome these difficulties. It is possible, but it won't involve using the typical methods we see in education. Those fail regular people, let alone those with the dopamine D2 receptor gene polymorphism DRD2-TAQ-IA.
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