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Researchers gain new insights into "warrior gene"

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A controversial gene linked to aggression and violent behavior may help carriers make optimal decisions when faced with risky financial situations, according to findings published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The MAOA gene, often called the "warrior gene," is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters in the brain. Previous studies suggest a variation of the gene called MAOA-L makes carriers more prone to risky behavior.

In this latest study, researchers analyzed the genes of 83 men between the ages of 19 and 27 from various ethnic backgrounds. Participants then completed financial decision-making exercises 140 times where they were forced to decide between a sure option and a gamble. Nature reports:

"At first blush, it looked like previous findings," [lead author Cary Frydman] says. MAOA-L carriers opted for the riskier choice in 41% of decisions, whereas carriers of MAOA-H did so 36% of the time.

But when Frydman and his team analyzed their subjects' choices in the 'value' model, they noted another trend: when faced with a potentially winning gamble, subjects carrying MAOA-L made the optimal choice more often than those with MAOA-H. In other words, those with the 'warrior gene' weren't making risky financial decisions because they were rash, but because they were adept at rooting out the better choice.

Although more research is needed, the study results are an interesting development in the emerging field of neuroeconomics.

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