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Your willingness to take risks and the potential to make strategic decisions may be influenced by your genetic makeup.

This was the key finding of a new study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS), University of California, Berkeley, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

The study concluded genes which modulate dopamine information signalling in the brain partially trigger how humans take risks and think strategically. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure-seeking system.

By surveying the genes of 217 Chinese students from Singapore and Beijing as they played a betting game, the experiment revealed how dopaminergic genes are involved in risk taking and social and strategic decision making.

“The study reveals that people have hard wired biases in decision making and strategic thinking that can impact business decisions including those taken at the national and international levels,” the report from NUS stated.

In a laboratory setting, these subjects were made to play a competitive game called patent race, that captured individual differences in strategic thinking. It involved one person betting, via a computer, with an anonymous opponent.

Almost complete genetic information was determined for each of these students, and the researchers focused on 12 genes, all involved in regulating dopamine.

“The current study is unique in showing how a set of dopamine genes jointly impact strategic thinking,” Professor Chew Soo Hong, Department of Economics, NUS, said.

“It shows how different dopamine genes contribute to how individual thinking differs in a winner-takes-all competitive game.”

The study highlighted that differences in belief learning – the degree to which players were able to anticipate and respond to the actions of others, or to imagine what their competitor is thinking and respond strategically – was associated with variations in those three genes which primarily affect dopamine functioning in the medial prefrontal cortex.

In contrast, differences in trial-and-error reinforcement learning – how quickly players forget past experiences and how quickly they change strategy – was associated with variation in two genes that primarily affect striatal dopamine.

The research was funded by Singapore’s Ministry of Education, US’ National Institute of Mental Health, and the AXA Research Fund.

Image: Shutterstock

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