Cultural stereotypes may be deep rooted in our genetic makeup, say scientists.
Common traits like British individualism and Chinese conformity could be attributed to genetic differences between races according to a new study.
The study, by the department of psychology at Northwestern University in Illinois, suggests that the individualism seen in western nations, and the higher levels of collectivism and family loyalty found in Asian cultures, are caused by differences in the prevalence of particular genes.
'We demonstrate for the first time a robust association between cultural values of individualism–collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene,' said Joan Chiao, from the department of psychology at Northwestern University.
Chiao and her colleagues combined data from global genetic surveys, looking at variations in the prevalence of various genes. The findings were matched with other research which ranked nations by levels of individualism and collectivism.
The team focused their attentions on the gene that controls levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain which regulates mood and emotions.
Their studies found that one version of the gene was far more common in western populations which, they said, was associated with individualistic and free-thinking behaviour.
Another version of the same gene, which was prevalent in Asian populations, they said was associated with collectivism and a greater willingness to put the common good first.
People with this gene appeared to have a different response to serotonin.
If they are confirmed, the findings made by Chiao and her colleagues would suggest that races may have a number of inherent psychological differences — just as they differ in physical appearances.
Chiao suggests that the version of the gene predominating in Asian populations is associated with heightened anxiety levels and increased risk of depression.
She adds that such populations respond by structuring their society to ward off those negative effects.
The success of such social structures would then ensure that the gene would spread.
She added the findings showed how culture could exert a powerful influence on human genetics and evolution.
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