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Genotypic Jobs

By Ilana Duchan and Rachel Sue

Were you born to be a big shot? Recent studies have revealed that your genetics could have a potential link to not only your career choices, but also your leadership traits (or lack thereof). A recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota examined the influence of genetics on our interests and aspirations. The researchers demonstrated that twins who were raised apart often chose jobs that were found to be similar in their complexity, motor skills and levels of physical strain. This indicates that genetics drive our interests.

Whether or not we enter a field that is more physically or academically demanding has been found to have partial roots in our genetic makeup. Tom Bouchard, a psychologist from the University of Minnesota, conducted a study in which he found that differences in genes explained approximately 46% of the difference between people in terms of their interest in academia. Additionally, the study found that people's genetic compositions affect 21% of the difference between their interests in law enforcement. These studies show that our genes do somewhat influence at least our general interests and play a role in differentiating people in terms of what they are interested in. A study done by David Lykken and his fellow researchers suggests that people’s preferences for adventurous, intellectual or agrarian work, or in other words, one's preference of a specific category of interest, was 53% hereditary. The fact that our genes influence our interests makes it easy to see how they affect our career choices. People tend to enter fields that line up with their interests. Our genes may even have an effect on how satisfied we are with a single job, and how often we change jobs. The same study by Bouchard demonstrated that genes account for 56% of the difference in people’s descriptions of their job histories as changing or stable. This means that whether or not someone is a job hopper can also be explained by our genetic makeup.

Genetics also play a role in our capacity for leadership traits. A team of researchers at Kansas State University and the National University of Singapore has explored the impact of dopamine as a major factor in leadership ability and roles. They found that people with the 10-repeat allele version of DAT1, the dopamine transporter gene, were significantly more likely to have been rebellious during their teenage years. Such rule-breaking activities may have included cutting class or partaking in illegal substances.

Professor Wendong Li of Kansas State University, co-author of the study, finds the results significant because past research has indicated a potential link between adolescent rule-breaking and adult leadership abilities. However, there is a discrepancy among the study’s results: People with the 10-repeat allele were less likely to have a “proactive personality," or the aptitude for taking on responsibility and pushing forward to achieve a goal. Nonetheless, Li posits that a variety of factors account for leadership potential, ranging from genetic composition to environment to experience.

In a separate study conducted by University College London, researchers analyzed data from sets of twins in order to identify possible links between leadership and heredity. The rs4950 gene “appears to be associated with the passing of leadership ability down through generations,” said lead author Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve. The team surveyed 4,000 individuals regarding their relationship and professions, with leadership attributed to those who occupied executive roles in the workplace. While results indicated that acquiring a leadership position does in part depend on the growth of an individual’s leadership skills, inheriting the leadership trait also plays an important role in determining how likely an individual is to develop such abilities.

Taken together, this research indicates that genetics can play as much a role in leadership aptitude as environment can. The authors of these studies studies recognize that this is a fertile field for research and more work must be done to conclude that being a head honcho is inherited.

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