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Medicine Science

Scientists Discover Gene For Ruthlessness 300

Posted by Zonk
from the also-known-as-the-pointy-haired-gene dept.
Pioneer Woman writes "Researchers at Hebrew University in Jerusalem have found a link between a gene called AVPR1a and ruthless behavior. These findings come from an economic exercise called the 'Dictator Game' that allows players to behave selflessly, or like national dictators and 'little Hitlers' found in workplaces the world over. The team decided to look at AVPR1a because it is known to produce receptors in the brain that detect vasopressin, a hormone involved in 'prosocial' behavior. Researchers tested DNA samples from more than 200 student volunteers, before asking the students to play the game that measured their altruism. There was no connection between the participants' gender and their behavior but there was a link to the length of the AVPR1a gene."
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Scientists Discover Gene For Ruthlessness

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  • Games != real life (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:38PM (#22984220)
    As all the gamers tell us, games != real life. People who kill many characters on FPS are not going to kill real people.

    So why should ruthless behaviour in some game be linked to ruthlessness in life?

  • by cynicsreport (1125235) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:46PM (#22984270) Homepage
    Can we put these headlines to rest, please?
    I mean the "Scientist discovers gene for [insert personality trait here]".
    Some of these get pretty inane; ruthlessness, for example, is defined by behavior, and is subjective!
    And don't forget: these studies are nearly meaningless, even if they are talking about something that can be defined rationally:

    1. The study evaluates 'ruthlessness' based on subjects playing a game. (Not by observing reality)
    2. The study involves 200 student volunteers. Not exactly a representative sample!
    3. The article generalizes these dubious results to make inferences about the genetics of dictators.
    4. The study has not yet been repeated to duplicate these results (A necessary step to 'prove' something)

  • Re:oh the irony (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:49PM (#22984298)

    oh the irony of a hebrew research center practicing eugenics.
    I see no value judgments or political recommendations, beyond the poor (as usual) media coverage. Understanding how people are genetically different isn't instantly bad. Everyone knows a diverse gene pool is critical to survival, even if some traits are undesirable most of the time. Sadly, since Hitler was mentioned in the story, there's little point even discussing it.
  • Re:Repeat after me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by snl2587 (1177409) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:49PM (#22984300)

    Side memo to the press: Stop. Dumbing. Down. Science.

    But then it wouldn't be the press. Since when has scientific thinking had a place in mainstream journalism?

  • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:49PM (#22984302)
    They gave a small amount of cash ($14 USD) to some people to see how they would behave, and now they're claiming they found a gene that's partly responsible for the actions of famous dictators and mass murderers. They're reading a heck of lot into this, aren't they? Who's to say that, for example, short AVPR1a genes aren't a trait of a particular group of people in the region who are just a bit more strapped for cash. Yeah, I just pulled that example out of the usual place, but it'd be nice if people would actually run their hypothesis through a few more tests before making such bold claims. Then again, I guess those grant checks don't write themselves...
  • Re:Repeat after me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chunk08 (1229574) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:07PM (#22984434) Journal
    And why should we assume that Joe Public can understand science? If that was the case, there would be no use for graduate degrees. The MSM is just an entertainment medium. Only a small percentage of us actually care about being correct. That's why I hang around /. Regardless of all the jokes, people here do care about being right. I say this even disagreeing with many of the general opinions around here.
  • by Guppy (12314) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:38PM (#22984662)
    You are correct that "correlation is not causation". This particular statement seems to be trotted out in any research-related posting and appears to be highly correlated with an increase in +5 moderations within science topics. However, we also have a postulated mechanism, which has already been previously explored and found plausible, and some experimental evidence from animal models.

    For instance Prarie Voles and Vasopressin [bbc.co.uk], in which by manipulating the Vasopressin V1a gene, males of a normally promiscuous species of Vole were rendered monagamous (and more attentive to their single mates). Only partially relevant, but suggestive.

    Most importantly, it points at the possibility of producing directly relevant evidence in future experimental model (in which the species selected would be one that exhibits both "altruistic" and "ruthless" behaviors). I don't imagine such an experiment would be quick or cheap, as more socially sophisticated species tend to be more difficult to work with.

    In any case, it sounds like your comment is directed at the particular news article (which mentions very little of the background), and not at the research in particular -- am I incorrect in drawing this distinction?
  • by schnikies79 (788746) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:56PM (#22984788)
    Worlds worst health care?

    You seriously have to be joking. Never mind. That comment is really one of the more ignorant things I've ever read on Slashdot.
  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:05PM (#22984858)
    I've done this more times than I can count. We don't like rabbits around here. Reach into rabbit hole. Pull out rabbit. Twist neck. This is particularly productive with baby rabbits (have pulled 9 out of one hole).
  • Re:oh the irony (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:17PM (#22984920) Journal

    oh the irony of a hebrew research center practicing eugenics.
    I don't think that word means what you think it means.. Finding a correlation between a gene's length and biochemical changes which can result in altered behavior isn't the same as "practicing eugenics" any more than determining the gene responsible for phenylketonuria as an example.
  • by Thing 1 (178996) on Monday April 07, 2008 @12:06AM (#22985244) Journal

    Most people who drink mother's milk are not going to kill real people.

    There, fixed that for you. There have been a few notable exceptions.

  • Re:hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Monday April 07, 2008 @12:14AM (#22985304)

    Wow, even the summary pulled a Godwin.

    I agree. Instead of "Little Hitlers", they should have said "Little Napoleons". I wonder if overexpression of the AVPR1 gene also makes you seem short. That would explain a correlation between perceived height and incessant posturing, loud voices, and stomping around. That is to say, such behavior actually makes people seem shorter--I think it can actually take 2 to 3 inches off one's height. I've seen a 5'4" guy remark that a 5'5" guy had a Napolean's complex. I had to agree, the little Napolean that the 5'4" guy was referring to always seemed short while I never even thought about the 5'4" guy's height until that point (not a Little Napolean). But maybe we should cut Little Napoleans a break. Perhaps they can't help it, genetically speaking.

  • by elucido (870205) on Monday April 07, 2008 @12:45AM (#22985454)

    The rub is that people really are genetically different. While understanding differences is important to understanding how and why people respond differently to different medications, etc., it's just a little bitty hop to start deciding one person is "better" than another based on genetics.

    Genetics is truly a double-edged sword. Just deciding that some gene needs to be "fixed" brings a value judgement with it. And that same little hop to deciding one person is better than another.

    Hopefully it only gets as extreme as wanting to help fix other people's genes instead of exterminate them.
    Where do you people jump to the conclusion that they want to exterminate people?

    So you are saying if the gay gene, or the gene for black skin is discovered, that the evil scientists will want to exterminate them?

    Ridiculous. If these people want to exterminate the bad genes, they'll do it with race based medicine, and I don't see enough people being concerned about that or the potential for genocide, because the majority of people probably secretly support genocide of some other group as long as it's not their group of genes.

    Either genocide is always wrong or it's always right, which is it?

  • Truly Awful! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Monday April 07, 2008 @12:47AM (#22985468) Homepage Journal
    This from someone who lives in a country home to the world's worst health care system

    I know, seriously. Stop sending your rich folk and government officials here for treatment, will 'ya?, they're tying up our beds.

  • Re:oh the irony (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hannah E. Davis (870669) on Monday April 07, 2008 @12:48AM (#22985474) Journal
    You should read some of the more extreme Zionist propaganda sometime. It's almost indistinguishable from the extreme white supremacist shit -- both groups tend to whine to no end about the need to protect their race and culture, stop interracial marriage, maintain the racial purity of Europe/Israel, etc. They also tend to bring up the fear of being outbred (both white and Jewish birth rates are apparently quite low), and blacks and hispanics are often given as an example of peoples who are going to overwhelm the jews and/or whites with sheer numbers. Here's an example post [jdl.org] on the Jewish side, and I really don't want to go searching for something on the white supremacist side; do that yourself :P

    When you get right down to it, many nationalists of ANY race follow very similar rhetoric... I guess it's just part of being extremists. The thing is... nationalism is actually accepted among Jews. It's apparently ok to have Jewish dating sites, but I doubt there are all that many all-white dating sites that aren't run by trailer trash skinheads, and I can only imagine the backlash if such a site was advertised publicly.

    Now... back on topic: if ruthlessness is linked to a gene, it may well be especially prevalent in one or more races. And no, I'm not just thinking about the Germans here (their successes would probably be better explained by a discipline gene anyway)... also the English, the Romans, and other empire-building civilizations over the ages.

    This could be dangerous... it's one thing to rant and rave about [insert race here] being [insert negative characteristic here] (and thus deserving of destruction/enslavement/etc.), but when you can bring up genetic proof... well, there's a good possibility that a lot more people are going to listen to you.
  • by bogjobber (880402) on Monday April 07, 2008 @02:23AM (#22985936)
    If the only reason you don't kill people in real life is because you can't get away with it, you should reexamine your ethics.

Do you suffer painful illumination? -- Isaac Newton, "Optics"

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