Your Brain on Money: Our Genes May Influence Financial Choices

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your-brain-on-moneyHave a track record of making poor investment decisions? You can blame it on your DNA.

That’s according to new research, which found that our strategic behavior is at least partly determined by the genes that regulate dopamine production in our bodies.

Scientists at University of California, Berkeley and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studied people playing a game called “patent race,” in which each participant uses a computer to bet against an anonymous adversary. Specifically, the researchers were looking at variations in belief-based learning, or how well players can predict and react to other people’s behaviors, and reinforcement-based learning through trial and error, or how they use past experiences to modify their strategy.

As it turns out, differences in belief-based learning had a lot to do with variations in genes that control dopamine functioning in a part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex.

On the other hand, performance on tasks related to reinforcement-based learning corresponded to differences in genes that regulate dopamine functioning in a brain area called the striatum.

Scientists already knew when people bet or play competitive games, they activate their medial prefrontal cortex and striatum. But this research is the first to find a significant relationship between competitive behavior and the genes that affect the production of dopamine in these parts of the brain.

Right now there’s no indication that Wall Street analysts are going to start giving blood samples or sticking their heads in brain scanners to figure out whether they’re suited for the job. But the more we learn about our genetic predispositions, the better we can figure out our individual money-managing strengths and weaknesses—and how to use those assets to our advantage.

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