Certain genes linked to mental health can lead to both happiness and depression, a new review concludes.
It all depends on the environment in which a person is brought up.
Supportive environments can lead to positive biases in seeing the world (essentially: happiness).
Unsupportive environments can lead to the opposite.
Professor Elaine Fox, the study’s first author, said:
“‘Cognitive biases are when people consistently interpret situations though particular mental ‘filters’ – when people have a cognitive bias that emphasises negative aspects or thoughts, they are more at risk of mental health disorders.
There is a lot of research about these biases, and a lot of research about genes that may make people susceptible to mental ill health.
However, we suggest that it could make more sense to bring together these two areas of research.”
Professor Fox is currently researching how genes and the environment combine to affect our cognitive filters.
Professor Fox said:
“If you take a gene that is linked to mental illness, and compare people who have the same genetic variant, it becomes clear that what happens to their mental health is based on their environment.
We suggest that while no gene ‘causes’ mental ill health, some genes can make people more sensitive to the effects of their environment – for better and for worse.”
“If you have those genes and are in a negative environment, you are likely to develop the negative cognitive biases that lead to mental disorders.
If you have those genes but are in a supportive environment, you are likely to develop positive cognitive biases that increase your mental resilience.”
The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry (Fox & Beevers, 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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