Popularity Gene Found?
Study Shows Teens More Popular If They Carry Gene Linked to Rule Breaking
Dec. 22, 2008 -- Do you carry the popularity gene?
Your genetic makeup can make you more likely to be liked, suggests
behavioral geneticist S. Alexandra Burt, PhD, of Michigan State University.
Your genes don't confer popularity. That's for others to decide. But Burt
suggests that those carrying specific genes tend to behave in likeable
"The idea is that your genes predispose you to certain behaviors, and
those behaviors elicit different kinds of social reactions from others,"
Burt said in a news release. "And so what's happening is your genes are to
some extent driving your social experiences."
To support this theory, Burt focused on a gene that affects brain levels of
the chemical messenger serotonin -- the 5HT2A serotonin-receptor gene. In
earlier work, she found that college-aged men who carried the G variant of the
gene were more popular than men who carried the A variant.
But why? Burt noted that rule breaking is a behavior linked to popularity
among teenage males. Impulsivity underlies rule breaking -- and impulsivity has
been linked to higher serotonin levels. Might the popularity gene have
something to do with a predisposition to rule breaking?
Burt assembled more than 200 college men with an average age of 19 into two
groups. One group met together to plan a party on a strict budget; the other
met to plan a party for which the sky was the limit. Immediately after the
planning session, individuals rated their peers on popularity. They also gave a
Sure enough, after analyzing the men's behavior while they planned the
parties, Burt saw that men who advocated rule-breaking tended to be rated as
more popular. And the rule breakers tended to carry the popularity gene.
"So the gene predisposed them to rule-breaking behavior, and their
rule-breaking behavior made them more popular," Burt says.
Is the popularity gene limited to men, and to just one type of behavior?
Burt is working on similar studies in females and will explore other genes and
other social behaviors.
The Burt study is slated to appear in the April 2009 issue of the Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology.