Not exactly, say the authors of a new study. However, they have identified a certain gene variation that causes people to notice the negative more quickly while also experiencing emotional events more vividly.
A study published online last week in Psychological Science suggests that there may a genetic reason why some individuals “focus on the slippery rocks instead of the breathtaking scenery” during a nature hike. Researchers showed test subjects a series of words in quick succession and asked them to pick out two words in green displayed half a second apart. Due to a phenomenon called attentional blink, subjects would occasionally miss the second word, but if that word had a strong or dark emotional overtone (for example, “rape”) they would remember it more strongly. Those who noticed dark words most successfully also had a specific type of gene that lacked certain amino acids.
What’s the Big Idea?
The gene variation results in more norepinephrine in the brain, and it’s that chemical that helps people remember emotionally charged events more vividly and, according to the researchers, notice more of the negative in real time. Study co-author and Cornell University psychologist Adam Anderson says, “This is a simple experiment, but there are probably pretty profound consequences to seeing negative things more readily.” However, he adds that it’s too soon to say that a “negativity gene” exists: “Instead of thinking this is a genetic sentence…think of it as a gene enhancing things related to your experience.”