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Born to Succeed?

By Rachel Choi


With modern technology, would it ever be possible to determine a child’s measure of life-long success as early as during prenatal development? For pretense, we need to define what “success” is. Some may define “success” to be a life of economic leisure while others may define “success” as a life simply full of self-fulfillment and happiness. The common factor? Regardless of what the term “success” means, those who are deemed to be bound for prosperity seem to share similar traits. No matter the setting, whether it be at a school, workplace, etc., those who are labeled to be on the path to success are those who have traits such as determination, positivity, and ambition. This brings along the question: are we genetically predisposed for these characteristic that set us up for future success?


Researchers say yes and well, no. In a recently completed study, Daniel W. Belsky of Duke University and his team of researchers from the School of Medicine investigated the link between genetics and socioeconomic outcomes. Their longitudinal study involved following around 1,000 people from the same town of Dunedin, New Zealand for four decades after birth. At regular intervals, Belsky and his team conducted surveys that assessed and analyzed the psychological and behavioral capacities of these subjects. The achievements and life outcomes of these participants were also noted. In his results, Belsky stated that he and his team discovered a connection between better socioeconomic outcomes and the presence of certain genes. He stated that those who had these genes were more likely to succeed in school as children and in the workplace as an adult. Wei Chi of Tsinghua University also studied the link between genes and career success. He found that the DRD4 gene, which was involved in regulating dopamine receptors, played a big role in motivation, self-regulation, and ambition- confirming the existence of a link between genetics and traits that increase potential for success.


Belsky, however, stated “We’re still a long way from being able to accurately estimate human potential with a genetic test”. Although certain genes have been identified to have influence over an individual’s chances of future success, it still is quite difficult to measure one’s potential via a polygenic test. Those with higher polygenic scores did indeed display higher achievements than those with lower scores. However, a minor 1% to 4% of the effect made up the variance. Due to this lack of competence in the data, it can be concluded that human potential is still quite far from being accurately tested. But who knows? Perhaps one day we’ll see the introduction of tests that measure potentials of children prenatally.

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