A Gene Behind Creativity
Leonardo Da Vinci, Picasso, Einstein, Steve Jobs. What allows some individuals to develop into creative geniuses, and many others to follow a less original path in life? Could the answer lie in our genes?
Oxytocin is a well-known and well-studied brain chemical and hormone naturally produced by our brain. Since its discovery in the early 1900s, studies have shown its implication in a wide range of important physiological and psychological functions. These functions include roles in childbirth, bonding and social behaviors. A recent study has linked oxytocin to creativity, showing that oxytocin reduced analytical reasoning, but increased creative thinking and performance in tested subjects. (1)
Not only that, the study identified that a specific change in the DNA sequence, known as a polymorphism, in the gene interacting with oxytocin predicted whether some individuals are more inclined toward creativity. The scientists found that carriers of the polymorphism rs1042778 GG/GT produced more original ideas than those that had TT genotype at the same location of their DNA sequence.
What are polymorphisms?
Genetic polymorphisms are alterations in the DNA sequence of a gene. Some do not produce any effects and are called ‘silent’, while others can cause cellular, physiological, or psychological changes in humans.
Polymorphisms can have some interesting, but non-medical effects on us, such as making some of us taste cilantro as soap, while making others find cilantro delicious! A polymorphism also makes some people have dry ear wax, and other have wet ear wax. But polymorphsms can also have more serious consequences on our bodies. Depending on the polymorphisms you carry, you could have an increased risk for certain diseases including diabetes and heart disease.
Can a polymorphism really affect creativity?
The study included subjects from the Netherlands, Singapore, and Israel and set out to answer this question. The researchers’ initial quest only looked into the effects of oxytocin, and how oxytocin is associated with novelty-seeking temperament. They found that plasma oxytocin levels were correlated with novelty seeking, reward dependence, and harm avoidance (1).
They next wanted to see whether polymorphic variation in the OXTR (oxytocin) gene would affect creativity. They tested subjects on their ability to find novel uses for a particular object. They found that GG/GT-carriers produced more ideas, had more original ideas, and displayed greater flexibility(1).
So, does this mean that those of with the GG/GT should quit their 9 to 5 jobs, and pursue their creative passion? And that those carrying the TT variant will never have any success with their creative ideas? Certainly not. Creativity is a complex trait affected by many factors, biological and environmental.
These findings give us a possible insight into what makes us who we are and may be one of the many reasons that some people are capable of having more original and creative ideas than others.
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Oxytonergic circuitry sustains and enables creative cognition in humans. Social, Cognitive, and Affective neuroscience. De Dreu et al., 2014.