Legacy Blog

DRD4-7R. The Wonderlust Gene

According to a very common myth in our society, people are against novelties and change. The truth is that people do not like the changes they perceive as too dangerous. In the absence of risk, human nature makes us instinctively attracted to both novelty and change.

Leonard Mlodinov discuss these ideas in Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Constantly Changing World, reporting that scientists have discovered a gene, the DRD4, which would be the genetic responsible for human propensity to exploration and risk. The gene is a dopamine receptor, which conveys the sensation of pleasure.

DRD4 may have different variants. Each possesses the same basic structure, but just as the people’s height and color of eyes vary, so does their degree of propensity for novelties. There is a specific version of the gene, the DRD4-7R, that is credited to give us a particular tendency to exploration. This happens because those with this gene variant respond less to dopamine in their reward system. As a result, they need a larger dose of this molecule to feel energized in everyday life than those with other gene variants and therefore seek more stimuli for dopamine to reach a sufficient level.

Obviously, reducing a complex thing as a character trait to a single gene is an excessive simplification. But, as Mlodinov writes the good news is that, despite the more or less radical changes that we have to face in contemporary society, most of us have a good dose of neophilia in their genetic heritage.