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A First: Scientists Discover Gene Linked To Happiness In Women

A First: Scientists Discover Gene Linked To Happiness In Women
8/28/2012 10:27 PM ET

A number of studies have found that overall, women are happier than men though they experience higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders. But why is this gender difference in happiness? Perhaps a study, which has found the first happiness gene for women, can shed some light on this issue.

The study, conducted by scientists at the University of South Florida, the National Institutes of Health, Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, has found that the low-expression form of the gene monoamine oxidase A, or MAOA, is what appears to make women happy, though the same has no such effect on men.

What has surprised scientists is the fact that low expression of MAOA is usually linked to aggression, alcoholism and antisocial personality disorder, which has resulted in it being dubbed as the warrior gene. But the same variant of the gene has been found to have a brighter side in women.

The study involved 345 individuals - 193 women and 152 men, and the DNA of the study subjects were analyzed for MAOA gene variation and their self-reported happiness was scored by a widely used and validated scale.

After controlling for various factors such as age, education and income, the analysis showed that women with the low-expression type of MAOA were significantly happier than women with no copy of the "happy" version of the gene at all. But in men, no such association was found between their score on the happiness scale and copies of the low-expression version of the MAOA gene.

The researchers attribute the gender gap in happiness partly to the hormone testosterone. Women have only a fraction of the amount of testosterone that men have. Henian Chen, lead author of the study, and co-authors suggest that testosterone may nullify the positive effect of MAOA on happiness in men.

The testosterone level in boys is normally low when they are young but it rises with puberty, and the potential benefit of MAOA in boys could wane as testosterone levels rise, Chen said.

The study was published online in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry.

by RTT Staff Writer

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