I don't believe it - anxiety is in your genes!
It's what we've always thought. There's a gene to explain our anxiety attacks. Researchers have now found that certain variations in a mood-altering gene actively influence whether or not we take an anxious or sunny view of the world.
Psychologists from the University of Essex came up with the results after showing 97 volunteers pictures depicting positive and negative images. The participants were shown pairs of pictures selected from 20 pleasant, 20 unpleasant and 40 neutral ones in order to judge which ones grabbed their attention. Those with the longer version of the gene sought the positive images, such as sweets, while others were actually prone to staring at the negative (anxiety-inducing) pictures, like spiders.
The findings show that those of us with a long version of the gene tend to have a ‘sunny disposition', dwelling on positive aspects of life and deliberately downplaying the negatives. Conversely, those with a shorter version display definite anxiety tendencies, even when there is no obvious reason.
It appears that different versions of the gene, which is involved in the transportation of the well-being chemical serotonin, affect whether or not we are drawn to negative or positive aspects of the world.
Professor Elaine Fox, from the Essex research team, said: ‘People who carried one form of the serotonin transporter gene tended to look on the bright side of life, and selectively avoided negative material. Meanwhile, those who carried the other version showed a complete absence of this protective bias.'
The researchers said such fundamental biases in attention are important since they are associated with different degrees of resilience and susceptibility to mood disorders, including anxiety.
Professor Fox said: "Humans differ in terms of biased attention for emotional stimuli and these biases can confer differential resilience and vulnerability to emotional disorders.
‘Selective processing of positive emotional information, for example, is associated with enhanced sociability and well-being while a bias for negative material is associated with neuroticism and anxiety.'
The psychologists say everybody tends to selectively notice either good or bad events, and these biases play an important role in our general reaction to stress.But their research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show a common genetic variation underlies these biases.
Meanwhile, three-quarters of Britons consider themselves optimists, according to a new report. More than 2,000 adults were asked about their views on life in a survey carried out by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC). And nearly two-thirds (58 per cent) of them said a positive outlook is contagious and being around optimistic people made them feel better about their own lives.
A sunny outlook on life can also make you more attractive to the opposite sex with 52 per cent of those polled saying they found optimists more attractive than pessimists.
The research, conducted on behalf of The National Lottery, found three-quarters of those polled considered themselves generally optimistic, with only 6 per cent describing themselves as pessimistic.
Dr Peter Marsh, co-director of SIRC and author of the Lotto Optimism Report, said: ‘The image of the British as a rather miserable race contrasts with our findings, showing the majority of Brits have a distinctively upbeat and optimistic outlook on life.'
However, it is not clear whether those of us who identify with Victor Meldrew or even Basil Fawlty from TV's ‘Fawlty Towers' would agree. If it is true that those of us who laugh hysterically at Victor or Basil on TV recognise similar traits in ourselves - and audience figures (even for TV repeats) zoom up into the thousands - then there must be a considerable ‘minority' of us who have the shorter version of the anxiety gene.
So, next time your partner asks why you haven't yet done that DIY job at home (the one you've been putting off for ages), you can shout back stridently in true Basil style ‘I'm doing it, I'm doing it.....', knowing that you have the perfect excuse for your stressful reaction!
The Essex psychologists believe their findings could help develop new treatments for anxiety. As Victor would say ‘I don't believe it!'