Damn It! I've Got the "Altruism Gene."

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Val's give in to your genetic propensity: Met's overcome yours!

ScienceDaily is reporting a new study by researchers at the University of Bonn that finds that people with a certain gene variant gave twice as much money to a charitable cause than those who don't have the variant. Participants engaged in a memory task and were paid five Euros for their time once it was completed. The researchers also got cheek swabs from participants so that they could look for certain genetic information. Afterwards participants were given an opportunity to donate some portion of their earnings to a charity.

ScienceDaily reports:

It has been known for nearly 15 years that there are two different variants of the COMT gene: COMT-Val and COMT-Met. Both versions, which occur in the population with approximately equal frequency, differ in only a single building block. In the case of people with the COMT-Val variant, the associated enzyme works up to four times more effectively. Thus considerably more dopamine is inactivated in the brain of a person with this variant.

This mini-mutation also has effects on behavior: "Students with the COMT-Val gene donated twice as much money on average as did fellow students with the COMT-Met variant," explains Reuter [the lead Bonn researcher]. This is the first time that researchers have been able to establish a connection between a particular gene and altruistic deeds.

As it happens, I am homozygous for COMT-Val. (Hmmm. Maybe that explains why I work for a non-profit.) So all you COMT-Val's dig deep and contribute to the Reason Webathon. You know you want to.

And as for you COMT-Met's, show that you are no slaves to your genetic make-ups by overcoming your inborn propensity for stinginess and contribute too.

NEXT: Roots of Environmentalism

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  1. Damn It! I’ve Got the “Altruism Gene.”

    I hate it when that happens.

  2. I have the poor gene. Bite me.

  3. This explains why there are leftists.

    1. No it doesn’t.

      Leftists are generous with other people’s money.

      1. other peoples money? never heard of it.

        1. + 1, appropriated from the under-attentive

      2. I’d go further: A generous person will give you money because he/she wants to help.

        The government gives you money because it wants to control you and the ‘donor’.

        1. Look what I’ve done for you… Why aren’t you more like Aresen?

    2. Well it could. Conservatives donate at higher rates than liberals. So there’s a genetic reason for that..

    3. Re: OPM,

      This explains why there are leftists.

      The altruism gene explains why there are thiefs with no character (a.k.a. leftists)?

    4. The IQ deficit nay explain tghe right wing. More academics and professionals are on the left. Ever wonder why? The left doesn’t have anything to comapre to Michelle Bachmann. Ever wonder why? Because the right is made up of low-IQ fuckwits and a few samrt con artisits who talk them out of donations to keep hopeless marginal right-wing operations like this going. And you stupid fucking assholes lap it up.

      1. Repeating how smart you are over and over again is not the same thing as being smart Max.

      2. This line works until you have to work around academics for a while. So many I know may be knowing in their field, but rock stupid when it comes to the rest of life. When my elderly mother worked as a rental agent across from a large college she would come home shaking her head saying, “How can some of these profs be so stupid and still be living?”

  4. your inborn propensity for stinginess

    It’s a feature, not a bug.

  5. Any correlation between this gene and the pitcher/catcher gene?

  6. The majority of mutations result from a single amino acid, so what makes this a “mini-mutation?”

  7. people with a certain gene variant gave twice as much money to a charitable cause than those who don’t have the variant.

    From looking at the Reason donation meter it would appear that gene is not coding as well as it did last year among Reason.com readers.

    1. It may have more to do with Reason readers figuring out all the donated money is used to reimburse booze and pot buys for the weekly orgy at Reason HQ.

      Allegedly.

      1. I’d like to investigate that rumor, allegedly.

      2. That would make me want to donate more…..

      3. It was due to Reason’s Lobster Girl bait-and-switch.

        Meet the new Reason,
        Same as the old Reason.

  8. In the case of people with the COMT-Val variant, the associated enzyme works up to four times more effectively. Thus considerably more dopamine

    So does this finally prove that more altruistic people feel, vs. those who think?

    This world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.” — Horace Walpole

    1. Tragedy is when I stub my toe.

      Comedy is when you fall into a open manhole and die.

  9. There are so many confounding variables not taken into account in this study it’s ridiculous. One obvious problem is that there was no accounting for the income level of the students; a wealthy student is more likely to blow five bucks on warm fuzzies than one to whom it means the difference between a hot meal vs. peanut butter and jelly. In particular I’d be interested to know the details of how the students were “given the opportunity to donate”; was there just a sign on a can asking for donations, or were there flesh and blood people encouraging the participants to do it? The researcher says the donations were given “freely”, but that could mean either case.

    If there was “human encouragement”, they could just as easily have been testing for a pushover gene.

    1. I believe this like I believe the gay penguins scam.

    2. Or the “I want the hot research girl/boy to think I am cool” gene. The only time I am stupid with money is when attractive women are involved. Strippers, Keno Girls, just plain hot salespeople do me in every time.

    3. Tulpa: Apparently the participants were shown a picture of a Peruvian waif and the bracelet she’d knitted. They could then put money in a piggy bank. In any case, you can read the full study here. [PDF]

      1. But, Ron, was she a hot Peruvian waif?

      2. I thought Peru was doing better…

        Maybe I am confusing it with Chile.

        1. Peru is doing just fine.

      3. Hmm … Peruvian waif, or Washington think tank guy’s fringe benefits? Can’t decide, can’t decide ….

      4. Ah, those Peruvian waifs . . . I could tell you stories…

      5. It would be more fun to say the gene controls empathy for people not in one’s own tribe, “racism” if you will.

      6. I sent Sally Struthers down there. She was enough to feed them for years.

    4. Ronald didn’t even bother to read the abstract, which states the Val allele and cooperativeness together explain 14.6% of the variance in donation behavior. So environment (at least in this study) is potentially 85.4% of altruism. It appears Ronald once again took the easy road and sponged his post from the Science Daily article. Has a gene for laziness been found yet?

      1. T: What are you going on about again? I cite the most salient single fact from the study in a blogpost (COMT-Vals give twice as much as COMT-Mets) and I get accused of being lazy? Give me a break.

        From the study:

        By means of an experimental approach human donation behaviour was assessed as a proxy for altruism. Participants who had previously worked hard for a monetary reward could decide to donate money for a poor little child in a developing country or to keep the endowment for themselves. It turned out that individual differences in altruism could be explained by the COMT Val158Met SNP. Carriers of at least one Val allele (Val group) donated about twice as much money than those who were homozygous for the Met allele (Val? group). This finding is in line with previous studies relating the Met allele to negative emotionality (Goldman et al., 2005; Reuter and Hennig, 2005). Persons with habitually more negative affect (Met allele carriers or worriers in terms of Goldman’s ‘warrior/worrier’ model) are putatively less likely to show prosocial behaviour because of being too much occupied with their own problems.

        External validity for the experimental paradigm assessing altruism comes from self-report personality questionnaire data measuring the basic temperament and character dimensions of the TCI. Cooperativeness was the only personality trait that showed substantial correlations to donation behaviour. Most interestingly, both predictors, the Val allele of COMT Val158Met and cooperativeness, could explain together 15% of the variance in the percentage of donated money.

        1. No, you presented a single data point without showing associated data necessary to place it within the proper context. As a result your post reads that the Val allele makes one twice as generous, which is not what the study says.

          1. True: are your reading skills impaired? I wrote “twice as much money” NOT “twice as generous.”

  10. You’ll have to take the cash from my cold dead COMT-Met hand.

    1. Your COMT-Met hands are so silky smoove.

  11. In the case of people with the COMT-Val variant, the associated enzyme works up to four times more effectively. Thus considerably more dopamine is inactivated in the brain of a person with this variant.

    Oh, so altruism is actually a genetic disease.

    1. Perhaps, but I DO know that love is a social disease. And that you can’t start a fire without a spark.

    2. If 50% of a population has a genetic characteristic, can it be said to be a disease?

  12. I’m highly suspicious of the results. As a former starving student, no way I’d have given cash (if I even had any in my pocket) to anyone.
    Oh, wait, this was in Germany? Is the U of Bonn free to students? That might explain it, they were giving away OPM.

      1. lol — good one!

    1. It’s around 650? per semester at the University of Bonn.

  13. “As it happens, I am homozygous for COMT-Val. (Hmmm. Maybe that explains why I work for a non-profit.) So all you COMT-Val’s dig deep and contribute to the Reason Webathon. You know you want to.”

    Well, now that I know that it was a genetic predisposition, and not reason (uh, reasoning) that made me contribute, I want my money back. After I cogitate on it a while, I will decide whether freedom or freedom to see hot young strippers is more important to me. C’mon altruistic gene – treat me right!!!

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