5 Personality Flaws That Science Will Cure in Our Lifetime
At least half of the bad people in the world avoid trying to change because they insist nothing is their fault. It's all due to their childhood, or their genes -- their temper, their weight, their bad habits -- all of it is outside of their control. It's bullshit, right?
Well ... not entirely. As we learn more about genetics, we find that more and more bad habits at least have their roots in our DNA. And once we find the right gene, it's entirely possible we can cure things like...
There used to be a time when a weekend hookup with a lady at the county fair might have life-changing consequences, e.g., her daddy showing up at your doorstep with a shotgun, a preacher and some Gone With the Wind commemorative wedding china. Those days are thankfully long gone, at least until the fathers of loose women and cheated-on wives get ahold of a hormone that forces loved ones to be faithful.
It'll be the end of tennis coaching as we know it.
Welcome to the future, ladies and gentlemen.
Scientists know that the hormone called vasopressin is integral to the formation of social bonds. In the male brain, vasopressin is released during sexual activity and encourages a guy to form an emotional attachment to his partner. But in a survey of 1,000 heterosexual couples, men who had a certain type of vasopressin receptor gene were twice as likely to report dissatisfaction with their marriages.
Imagine a future where being vasopressin negative was something you flaunted on your Match.com page. If you were a women, why wouldn't you want to know about a potential mate's "aptitude for monogomy," as the scientists put it. Hell, if there was a scientific test that could tell you whether the guy who just proposed to you is a ticking cheat bomb, you'd be stupid not to make him take it. Of course, the vasopressin receptor gene might not be terminal for its owner's sex lives. After all, if we can increase the number of vasopressin receptors, we might be able to cure cheating altogether.
Then we can deal with the other tell-tale signs of a mid-life crisis.
In an experiment conducted on prairie voles, males were injected with an artificial gene that boosted the number of vasopressin receptors in their brains. Then each male was paired with one female. Several hours later, a second female was thrown into the mix, because voles likes to party.
The males who received the vasopressin boost spent twice as much time with the original female they'd been paired with, while the males who did not receive the receptor boost spent equal amounts of time with both, presumably while attempting to proposition them for some hot three-way prairie vole action.
Or as they call it, "the vole-tron."
For some of us, getting our work done is just a matter of checking our Facebook news feed, playing a quick game of spider solitaire, updating our Netflix queue, running to the bathroom, pouring a second cup of coffee, doing something about that flappy hangnail on our big toe and then settling down for business. For others, getting work done is a real chore.
"No point in trying to be productive until I've stumbled around my local supermarket stoned as balls for a few hours."
It's easy to write it off as "you're lazy" or "duh, you just prefer not working to working," but there is a specific mechanism in the brain that causes us to delay a task we know we have to get to, and there is a way to get around it.
One reason we procrastinate has to do with dopamine, which is what allows us to draw the connection between the work we do and the reward for completing said work. In the carrot-and-stick analogy, dopamine is the carrot: It gives us the little high when we get close to the finish line, and the anticipation of that high.
A high that only shooting horse in an elementary school bathroom can top.
Here's the glitch: The closer we think we are to earning the reward, the more dopamine our brain releases, and the more we'll be motivated to work. But if we think the reward is a long way off, dopamine doesn't get released, our motivation is squelched, and we end up procrastinating.
If we can block dopamine receptors, we'll just work and work and work, with each task carrying the same weight. We know this because scientists injected a dopamine-blocking DNA construct into the brains of monkeys, as scientists are apt to do, and the DNA totally changed the way the monkeys worked.
This is the least-horrifying way we could illustrate it.
Before the monkeys got the worky juice, they learned to read visual cues that told them how many more tasks they had to complete, and their performance improved as they got closer to their monkey reward. But after they got a brain dose of special sauce, the monkeys' dopamine receptors were blocked, and they could no longer judge when the reward was coming. And that was when the monkeys got down to business.
So what could this potentially mean for us humans? Well, if we're anything like monkeys (news flash: we are) the results of the study suggest that gene therapy might totally cure procrastination. Trust us, we wish this wasn't true -- the day they cure procrastination is the day the Internet dies.
If you've never had an uncle who gambled away the family furniture, your favorite bike and your cat's virginity over a midnight game of poker, consider yourself lucky. Because compulsive gambling is actually a medically recognized condition, and the people who have it are as vulnerable to their vice as other addicts. Scientists have discovered that gamblers have lower levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Which is important, because that little baby is what gives the rest of us a "rush" when we're aroused, thrilled or stressed.
Russian roulette is the cheapest high money can buy.
So just like a crack addict has to keep smoking more and more to reach the same high, the gambling addict has to risk more and more money to get the same rush. And here's more bad news: If you've got a close relative with a gambling problem, you're eight percent more likely to develop one as well.
Don't believe us? Wanna bet on it?
Of course you do. You can't stop yourself.
By treating pathological gamblers like substance abuse addicts. Literally. With the same medicine and everything. In one experiment, researchers divided compulsive gamblers into two groups. The first group were people who said they had to gamble when they felt an "urge," and the second group was composed of people who weren't even cognizant of urges -- they just gambled all the time because they were impulsive addicts.
Each group was given different drugs to treat gambling. The first group got opioid blockers, which are the medicines also used to treat opiate addiction, and the second group got a drug that did a number on the prefrontal cortex, which actually gave them the capacity to just say "no" every now and then.
That's right. Science turned D.A.R.E. into a drug.
In other words, one group got their urges reduced and the other got their inhibitions increased, and both groups were able to control their gambling problems a little better. Sounds like a win-win to us!
You know how some people are always on the edge of losing their shit? Seemingly on the verge of an orgy of anger every time something goes just a little bit different than they wanted? Besides just being general douchebags, some of them are probably only lacking a little serotonin, otherwise known as the happiness hormone.
When serotonin is released in our brains, we get a feeling of well-being and contentment. Pretty sweet, right? Unfortunately, some people have naturally low serotonin levels, or the serotonin receptors in their brains are not as active. Unable to feel the same sense of contentment, they become prone to anger-management issues, or worse, massive depression.
Or even worse, hulking it up.
By bumping serotonin levels, we can hopefully take the edge off our impulsive, angry urges. And the cure might be just as easy as a diet fix. Even better, that diet fix could be a nice helping of delicious turkey.
For our bodies to make serotonin, which is what keeps us happy and reduces impulsive behavior, we need tryptophan, which also happens to be uber present in foods such as chocolate and poultry. Our diet is actually the only way our bodies can get the raw materials they need to make serotonin, which explains why people are grumpier when they haven't eaten.
To test their hypothesis, researchers were able to use dietary changes to lower the serotonin levels of otherwise normal people. Then they made them play a fairness game. Subjects were told they could split a pot of money with their partners any way they saw fit. If the partner accepted the proposed split, they both got the money; if the partner rejected it, they both got nothing.
Which doesn't explain why our traditional post-Thanksgiving Monopoly game was always so vicious.
Volunteers with lower serotonin levels were at least 50 percent more likely to reject the split, even if it meant walking away empty-handed. In other words, they let their impulsive anger urges get the better of them.
P.S. -- All of this finally explains why people who eat turkey legs at the Renaissance Faire are so damn chipper.
When it comes to alcoholism, there are a few things we've known for a while: One, kids of alcoholics are four times as likely to become alcoholics themselves. And two, 50 years ago alcoholism was the shit.
So now that scientists are on the whole alcoholism-is-a-little-bit-genetic bandwagon, the trick is figuring out which genes are the culprits and how to fix them. Sounds easy until you find out that some researchers are claiming the root cause isn't just a single gene, but an entire network of party-hearty bastards, all working together to turn people into drunks.
For instance, Chromosome 11, which research indicates is linked to alcohol dependence, contains a whopping 1,500 genes. So narrowing alcoholism to that one chromosome is kind of like the government saying that it's narrowed Osama bin Laden's location to "Asia."
He's there. Go get him!
Still, of everything on this list, alcoholism is the one thing researchers seem to have a cure boner for, so hopefully it's just a matter of time until it's ...
It looks like we might eventually have a few options. In one study, scientists figured out that a lack of dopamine receptors (remember those?) will cause the brains of alcohol drinkers to fundamentally change after long-term drinking. In other words, people whose brains have a normal pleasure and reward system can drink and their brains stay the same. But the brains of people who are missing those dopamine receptors will actually undergo biochemical changes that only reinforce addiction to alcohol.
Or addiction to flickering neon signage.
Which means that just screening potential drinkers for dopamine receptors might be the quickest and easiest way to prevent alcoholism.
Another group of scientists did even better. They discovered a gene that causes people to be especially sensitive to alcohol, which renders them less likely to drink heavily and become alcoholics. And an altogether different team of researchers is attempting to alter people's serotonin receptors to reduce their booze cravings in the first place.
Finally, the news you've been waiting for: A drug that has already been FDA-approved as a muscle relaxant has shown promise in suppressing the drinking habits of rats previously trained to imbibe copious amounts of alcohol. So these alcoholic rats were given medicine that gave them the willpower to turn away from the hooch and turn their lives around. Humans are not rats, obviously (you don't have to spend 20 years convincing rats they have a problem just to get them to take the medicine), but it's a start.
"YOU JUST DON'T LIKE SEEING ME HAVE A GOOD TIME."
Check out Dennis's musings on human behavior here.
And be sure to pick up our NYT bestselling book because it cures illiteracy
And find out how you got these flaws in 7 Life Altering Decisions Made For You (Before Your Birth). Or learn about how science will cure the biggest flaw of all: death -- in 5 Ways Science Could Make Us Immortal.
And stop by Linkstorm to learn how science cure your addiction to Cheetos.
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