Risky behaviour

One of the explanations for addiction is that some individuals have a biological predisposition because they inherit a particular form of dopamine receptor gene (if you want an explanation of dopamine receptor genes see second paragraph). An interesting link has been made between these genes and evolution. The argument goes that the dispersal of our distant ancestors from Africa was related to riskiness. Individuals with a predisposition to be impulsive and risky rather than careful and reflective would be more likely to explore and find new, desirable environments and would also cope better with new, challenging situations. Recent research has indeed found a link between specific dopamine genes and migration patterns i.e. migrants were more likely to have the version of the dopamine receptor gene that codes for risky behaviour. This shows that the gene has had an adaptive function, and may continue to do so.

Understanding dopamine receptor genes: There are different types of dopamine receptor such as D1R, D2R etc. (D for dopamine, R for receptor and the number denotes the type). The receptor is called D1R and the gene for that receptor is called DRD1, or D2R and DRD2 (which seems confusing to me, but there it is). For any gene there are different forms or allelles. So, for example, we all have a gene for D2R but the form of that gene differs. One person may have the G allele (which is associated with aggression) or the 1A allele (associated with addiction). In the study cited above (Matthews and Butler, 2011) the DRD4 gene was studied and the 7R and 2R versions were associated with risky behaviour whereas the 4R version was linked to being even tempered.