Caution over female happiness gene

A leading British psychologist has advised caution over the news that a gene that predicts happiness in females has been identified.

The new study published in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, scientists at the University of South Florida (USF), the National Institutes of Health, Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute claimed to have linked the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) to greater self-reported happiness for women. The study discovered no similar association for men.

The research team stated the finding may go some way to explaining why women often perceive themselves to be happier than their male counterparts.

Chartered Psychologist Professor Felicia Huppert said: "It would be exciting to discover that a particular gene predicted happiness. However, this would require data from a large population sample, a meaningful difference in happiness scores between genotype groups, and adjustment for other known effects of the gene. Unfortunately, the very small sample size in this study, combined with the tiny difference in happiness scores, and the lack of evidence of adjustment for crucial variables (such as anti-social behaviour, conduct disorder or alcoholism), means that we should treat the findings with great caution.”

 “As psychologists, we should be rightly sceptical about the allure of genetic findings. While all individual characteristics and behaviours are likely to have some genetic underpinning, the evidence to date suggests that these effects are tiny compared to the power of gene-environment interactions, particularly the early environment. There is abundant evidence that happiness is a skill that can be learned, and the best time to learn the skills of happiness is in the early years. Good parenting and optimal childhood experiences are the real keys to happiness. Our task as psychologists is to ensure as far as possible that every child has the opportunity to learn these skills."