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September 6th, 2017

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02:26 am - Musings On My Personal Genetics
A couple months ago I send a sample into 23andme for genetic testing, going for both ancestry and health. I recently received my results. The 23andme results contained few surprised, my ancestry is 2/3s UK, with almost all the rest being northwest European, and 0.2% native American from more than 200 years ago, which I suppose isn’t surprising given that my dad’s side of the family came over to the US quite a long time ago. The 23andme health results were similarly unsurprising, no bad genes, and not much in the way of information.

I was interested in more info, so I paid $5.00 to Promethease.com and uploaded my genetics results, and received what amounts to a focused literature search on my genetics (all from the genetics wiki snpedia).

The health info contained a bit more, single copies (2 is better, but 1 is still pretty good) of 2 extreme longevity genes, a hodgepodge of cancer and cancer protective genes, a gene that might be associate with DNA repair (one crucial aspect to the service that Promethease provides is that all this info is very much a work in progress, and many results are pretty darn speculative). The only notable downsides are increased prostate cancer risk, and a 3.75 x normal risk of dropping dead from a heart attack if I have high blood pressure. Thankfully, no one in my family has ever had cancer, except my grandmother who worked as an x-ray technician in a dentist office in the 30s-50s, and my blood pressure is very good.

The personality genes were rather more interesting and surprising. I have rs53576 (A;A). This is a gene I’d actually seen an article about before, having it means you have a somewhat decreased response to oxytocin. A few early papers made it sound like it was associated with less social bonding, but one from two years ago did an exceedingly careful study of the effects of this gene, and the results seemed far more focused – it has not effect on close relationships, but a notable effect on feelings and reactions to humans you aren’t close to. I’m betting that this gene explains at least some of my mild to moderate social anxiety with strangers ( which I discuss in greater detail in this post), including my very strong preference for arranging my life so that I only need to deal with exactly the sorts of people I’m was extremely comfortable dealing with.

Perhaps even more clearly is the fact that until I became a part of the otherkin community and actually found a community, which seems particularly set up to aid people with unusual socialization needs and strategies), I had never found any sort of larger community where I felt apart. Regardless of where I lived and what I did, I felt close to my friends, and small groups like the coven I trained with in LA, but larger communities like the pagan community, or SF&F fandom never felt like home to me, like they did to many others I’ve known.

In any case, one result of this genes seemed to be reduced empathy with humans in general, with two tests being used, one for discerning emotions from looking at pictures of people’s eyes, which I tried a number of years ago online and did slightly better than average, and the other being the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, which has 4 categories:

  1. Perspective Taking – the tendency to spontaneously adopt the psychological point of view of others.
  2. Fantasy – taps respondents' tendencies to transpose themselves imaginatively into the feelings and actions of fictitious characters in books, movies, and plays.
  3. Empathic Concern – assesses "other-oriented" feelings of sympathy and concern for unfortunate others.
  4. Personal Distress – measures "self-oriented" feelings of personal anxiety and unease in tense interpersonal settings.

I score equal to or above the average female range (which is slightly higher than the average male range) in Fantasy, Empathic Concern, and Personal Distress, and well below average in Perspective Taking, which definitely fits my own experience, especially for people I’m not close to.

The other notable gene was the rs1800497 (C;T). People with it seemed to learn notably less well from punishment, but where positive rewards worked just as well as normal. Here’s one link about it. According to what I read in a variety of places, it has a potential association with increased verbal creativity, and also with increased addictive behavior. I mostly seem to lack the second, but given a complete lack of depression and similar mental health problems, and a lack of anything like that in my family background, I’m not surprised by the lack of addictive behavior. It does seem a bit at odds with my one experience with gambling for money – in High School playing blackjack for quarters, where I realized that losing money sucked and even supposed winning strategies, like being sober when everyone I was playing with ranged from moderately tipsy to drunk, could still result in my losing money. It never occurred to me to gamble again, and in fact doing so baffles me. Similarly, both my parents smoked, and it smelled utterly vile, so I never developed an interest in it.

OTOH, as as this post of mine discusses, yelling at me, and other forms of punishment do little or nothing to encourage me to act in a particular way (and even less at getting me to change how I feel about anything other than resenting the source of punishment), while rewarding me is an exceptionally good way to get me to act in a desired manner. This gene may also partly explain why I personally regard all laws as optional. There are a great many things (mostly involving harming others) I actively avoid doing, but the existence or lack of laws has no influence on this, and my only reason for not breaking laws that do not violate my morals is a highly likelihood of getting caught.

In any case, I find this fascinating because it seems to explain a number of quirks of my personal psychology in two gene variants. Obviously, life-experience is at least as important, but both of these do correlate well with my personality and behavior. Also, if given my choice, I’d definitely choose the variant I possess, since I find the idea of punishment being effective on me quite troubling. Also, I suspect that these gene also helped create my overall sense of optimism (obviously, in combination with both my utter lack of any sort of clinical depression and the rather notable degree of privilege I grew up with as a white, well-educated member of the upper middle class).

I also wonder if one or both of these genes are connect to the fact that I don’t hold onto negative feelings, and tend to rapidly extricate myself from negative personal relationships. I’m also interested in how much of this might related to the results of this personality test I took a number of years ago, but which still seems to apply to me today.

Finally, I also have the intermediate version of rs4680 (A;G), which I’d previously heard referred to as the Worrier/Warrior gene – I’m exceedingly pleased not to have either of those variants, but instead to possess the intermediate one.

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Date:September 7th, 2017 12:50 am (UTC)
I just took the Interpersonal Reactivity Index and checked my scores against the means. Apparently I'm extraordinarily high for a female in both Fantasy and Personal Distress but just slightly below average for a male in both Perspective Taking and Empathic Concern. This is an interesting result, but I'm not very confident in its accuracy. In particular, I chose the neutral response on almost all of the Personal Distress questions because I had no particular idea of how my personal distress when seeing others in distress compares to other people's personal distress when seeing others in distress. It turns out that choosing the neutral response gave me a considerably higher score than most people, but I'm not convinced that necessarily means I'm more distressed than average by seeing others in distress. It's just that I certainly feel some level of distress when seeing others in distress, and I have basically no idea how to measure and score my level of distress on this scale.

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