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UCSB psychology professors study gene-culture interaction
Date:11/8/2011

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Two psychologists at UC Santa Barbara have provided a new twist on the old adage that people are products of both nature and nurture, in introducing a framework for understanding how these influences interact. The researchers are studying how genotypes (nature) can express themselves differently as a function of culture (nurture). Their findings appear in the current issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Using the oxytocin receptor polymorphism (OXTR), which is linked to socioemotional sensitivity, Heejung Kim and David Sherman, associate professors in UCSB's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, have demonstrated in research funded by the National Science Foundation that individuals can have the same gene, but manifest it differently, depending on their respective cultural experiences. The study involved Korean and American participants, which allowed the researchers to compare the expression of OXTR in people raised in a more collectivistic East Asian society, with that of people who grew up in the more individualistic American society.

"There's a genetic component to psychology that people are studying more and more," said Kim. "The framework of gene-environment interaction already exists and has been very influential. Genes influence people's reactivity to different things, such as environmental sensitivity and stress reactivity." As an example, Kim cited the genetic component to depression. A person can inherit the gene for depression, but studies show that the gene alone will not make him or her more prone to the condition. "If you have the gene and you are subject to harsh life experiences, only then do you see genetic differences emerging," she said. "That's the gene/environment interaction."

In their research, Kim and Sherman identified culture as the form of environment. "We wanted to see if people's genes lead them to be more or less environmentally
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Contact: Andrea Estrada
805-893-4620
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert  

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