Monoamine Oxidase a Gene (MAOA) Predicts Behavioral Aggression Following Provocation

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 106, No. 7, pp. 2118-2123, February 17, 2009

Posted: 29 Apr 2009

See all articles by Rose McDermott

Rose McDermott

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: April 29, 2009

Abstract

Monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA) has earned the nickname "warrior gene" because it has been linked to aggression in observational and survey-based studies. However, no controlled experimental studies have tested whether the warrior gene actually drives behavioral manifestations of these tendencies. We report an experiment, synthesizing work in psychology and behavioral economics, which demonstrates that aggression occurs with greater intensity and frequency as provocation is experimentally manipulated upwards, especially among low activity MAOA (MAOA-L) subjects. In this study, subjects paid to punish those they believed had taken money from them by administering varying amounts of unpleasantly hot (spicy) sauce to their opponent. There is some evidence of a main effect for genotype and some evidence for a gene by environment interaction, such that MAOA is less associated with the occurrence of aggression in a low provocation condition, but significantly predicts such behavior in a high provocation situation. This new evidence for genetic influences on aggression and punishment behavior complicates characterizations of humans as "altruistic" punishers and supports theories of cooperation that propose mixed strategies in the population. It also suggests important implications for the role of individual variance in genetic factors contributing to everyday behaviors and decisions.

Keywords: experiment, genetic, MAOA, aggression

JEL Classification: C91

Suggested Citation

McDermott, Rose, Monoamine Oxidase a Gene (MAOA) Predicts Behavioral Aggression Following Provocation (April 29, 2009). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 106, No. 7, pp. 2118-2123, February 17, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1396892

Rose McDermott (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) - Department of Political Science ( email )

Dept. of Political Science
University of California
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9420
United States
805-893-6160 (Phone)

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