genetics and nat’l differences in life history strategies

via ben southwood, here’s an interesting looking paper from the journal Personality and Individual Differences: “Genetic polymorphisms predict national differences in life history strategy and time orientation” [pdf]. (the paper’s even from the future! April 2015. (~_^) )

the “highlights”:

• Polymorphisms in three genes have been linked to aspects of life-history strategy.
• National frequencies of these polymorphisms form a strong single genetic factor.
• The genetic factor is strongly associated with national differences in life-history strategy.
• This association remains after controlling for national socioeconomic differences.

the three genes in question are some of the usual suspects: the androgen receptor gene (AR), DRD4, and the 5-HTTLPR in the SLC6A4 gene. the authors, minkov and bond, worked up a national genetic index based on the variations of these three genes as they relate to life history strategies (LHS) and time orientation (TO). they describe LHS and TO thusly:

“Life history strategy (LHS) theory explains differences in the allocation of an individual’s total bioenergetic and material resources between somatic effort (devoted to the survival of the individual) and reproductive effort (devoted to the production of offspring), as well as parenting effort (devoted to the survival of offspring) and mating effort (devoted to obtaining and retaining sexual partners) (Figueredo et al., 2005). Fast LHS (a focus on reproductive and mating effort) is positively associated with risktaking in animals (Ackerman, Eadie, & Moore, 2006) and humans (Figueredo et al., 2005). In addition to the individual-level studies, a number of nation-level measures associated with LHS have been proposed, relying mostly on national statistics about reproduction, violent crime, and cognitive ability or educational attainment (Meisenberg & Woodley, 2013; Minkov, 2013; Rushton & Templer, 2009; Templer, 2008).

“Some different studies (Hofstede, 2001; Minkov & Hofstede, 2012a) discuss a nation-level short-term versus long-term orientation dimension (STO versus LTO or simply TO for ‘time orientation’), derived from measures of values originally proposed by the Chinese Culture Connection (1987). According to these studies, TO reflects national differences in the endorsement of a wide range of values, some of which are especially prominent and seem to form the backbone of this dimension: future-related values (such as thrift and strong effort in modern education) versus a lack of emphasis on such values. The former set of values is known as long-term orientation, whereas the latter is called short-term orientation (Hofstede, 2001).”

what they found was that:

Nations that score lower on the LHSGF [Life History Strategy Genetic Factor] are characterized by faster LHS and shorter TO. The reason for this association is that these nations have relatively high percentages of people who carry AR, DRD4, and 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms that seem to stimulate risk-taking, impulsivity, and short-term-oriented mating competition (expressed as a tendency for earlier sexual initiation, sexual networking, and violence, in specific circumstances). The effect of the LHSGF on hypometropia-LHS seems stronger across societies with high socioeconomic inequality.”

minkov and bond - life history strategy - genetic factor index

minkov and bond - time orientation - genetic factor index

mr. billare objects to the paper on the grounds that, in some cases where data were lacking, the authors estimated the frequencies of the alleles based on the rates found in neighboring populations — neighboring populations that, perhaps, aren’t all that related to those for which there were no available data. that is not ideal, i agree — for example, estimating the national frequency of the DRD4 7-repeat for venezuela based on mexico’s frequency is…questionable. but i don’t think that their reference populations (i.e. the neighboring populations) which they used are that far off in most of the cases — at least not from a first glance at the paper. still, not ideal. definitely a weakness of the study.

my biggest objection to the paper is that’s we’re just talking about three genes here — there must be waaaay more genes related to behavioral traits involved here, as there are with height or intelligence. the authors acknowledge this, though: “[N]ational/ethnic LHS-TO may be driven by a large package of genes, each of which produces a very small effect at the individual level (and, in some cases, no effect at all); however they produce a large cumulative effect at the national level. It is therefore quite possible that our LHSGF index is actually a proxy for a much larger package of genes….

it’s early days, of course, and teh scientists simply just don’t know even half of the genes involved in our behavioral traits at this point in time. Further Research is RequiredTM! it’ll certainly be exciting when more data arrives! (^_^) this is an intriguing first step, though.

(note: comments do not require an email. boobies!)

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23 Comments

  1. There are other methodological problems with the results. Piffer and I have been re-analyzing the data since they are public. Will perhaps post/publish on that later.

    Reply

  2. “my biggest objection to the paper is that’s we’re just talking about three genes here — there must be waaaay more genes related to behavioral traits involved here.”

    This misses the point. The polygenic method indexes differential selection pressure, since if there was such there would be correlated differences in trait associated allele frequencies; and if not, alleles would vary willy-nilly. Thus one does not need “waaaay more genes” to draw a conclusion; one just needs enough genes to reliable assess if alleles correlate across populations non-randomly (controlling for population structure).

    Related paper: Minkov, M., Blagoev, V., & Bond, M. H. (2014). Improving Research in the Emerging Field of Cross-Cultural Sociogenetics The Case of Serotonin. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 0022022114563612.

    Reply

  3. Still, if these results are even approximately correct, it’s pretty interesting. And whether or not they hold up, it’s good to see people like Mr. Kirkegaard actually looking at the data and results, instead of just screaming “Rayciss!” This is how progress occurs…

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  4. I am a bit perplexed about the point of this study. They looked for 3 genes that correlated well with something called life-history strategy index, and then showed that these genes correlated with the same index at the national level as well. Unless one assumes behaviour is independent of genes, or that countries are not made up of people this is a rather trivial statement. Also, this method seems to be asking for false positive results.

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  5. ” Unless one assumes behaviour is independent of genes, or that countries are not made up of people this is a rather trivial statement.”

    I agree, but it’s remarkable how many people act as if they believe both of these statements. I mean, you will still find a lot of people who insist that genetics has nothing to do with violence or crime, or that immigration will not change a country, even though it changes the population. Crazy, but there you are…

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  6. “in some cases where data were lacking, the authors estimated the frequencies of the alleles based on the rates found in neighbouring populations”: dear God, if the data are lacking then omit that case from your analysis. What they have done is reminiscent of the Global Warmongering ninnies, who, when they lack a temperature measurement, just make it up using data from a “neighbouring” station – even if it is 1200 km away.

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  7. Temperature data is not made up. There are plenty of weather stations with actual data to use for a long period, and then before that there are many proxies one can rely on. These different measures are in fact factor analyzed to produce the temperature measures (“Hockey stick”). Another triumph of psychometricians, inventing the methods used for climate science! :) Factor analysis is definitely on my top 10 list of greatest scientific mathematical methods.

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  8. Kind of OT, but have you read this old Kevin MacDonald piece on what makes Northwest Europeans unique? It’s kind of insulting toward Jewish people at the end though…

    Also afaik, stereotypically, Nigerians and Ghanaians tend to be more business focused than many other groups. I think that stuff in Africa has a lot of confounding factors, like poverty, stuff like that.

    Here’s the McDonald article. It squares with a lot of stuff you’ve put forth here, including the manorialism bit.

    http://www.kevinmacdonald.net/west-toq.htm.

    Reply

  9. Then you didn’t read them critically enough. Heavens, the buggers boast about inventing data. How do you think they have “data” for those huge stretches of the landmasses where there are no weather-measuring stations?

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  10. @frankthippo – “Thus one does not need ‘waaaay more genes’ to draw a conclusion; one just needs enough genes to reliable assess if alleles correlate across populations non-randomly (controlling for population structure).”

    sure. but i didn’t mean that teh scientists couldn’t — or even shouldn’t — draw any conclusions using just these three genes. just that given the number and wide range of types of behavioral traits that are prolly involved in these behaviors, there must be, as i said, waaaay more genes involved.

    here’s what minkov and bond have to say about the predictive power of their index:

    “The LHSGF predicts differences in LHS and TO when most of the world’s main regions are reasonably well represented, but it does not have predictive properties within regions or continents, such as Europe. Apparently, geographic regions select for similar alleles that distinguish the population of one region from that of another region, but there is not sufficient genetic variation between human sub-populations within the same region to allow predictions within that region on the basis of genetic markers….

    …in these three genes, maybe!

    anybody who knows anything about europe — or east asia, for that matter — knows that there are within-region differences in the life history strategies and time orientation of these populations. compare the english or germans with southern italians or greeks (or irish). compare the japanese or koreans with indonesians. there must be genetic differences btwn these populations wrt LHS and TO — i’d bet good money on it. it’s just that minkov and bond haven’t picked up on those differences looking at just these three genes.

    that’s not meant as a criticism against them. the genetic data aren’t here yet, that’s all.

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  11. @toddy cat – “Still, if these results are even approximately correct, it’s pretty interesting…. This is how progress occurs….”

    absolutely! (^_^)

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  12. @nador – “They looked for 3 genes that correlated well with something called life-history strategy index, and then showed that these genes correlated with the same index at the national level as well.”

    they compiled (if that’s the right word?) three genetic national indicies — one for each of the genes in question. then, as emil says, they did factor analysis on those three indicies and found that together they comprise a single genetic factor (or that there is a single factor underlying these three genes, like g in intelligence research). this is their Life History Strategy Genetic Factor (LHSGF). they then found that their LHSGF correlates strongly with national measures of life history strategies and time orientation, even after they controlled for socioeconomic variables.

    make sense?

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  13. @emil – “There are other methodological problems with the results. Piffer and I have been re-analyzing the data since they are public. Will perhaps post/publish on that later.”

    cool! thanks. keep me posted!

    Reply

  14. @assistant village idiot – “I found the positions of Italy, India, and Russia a little surprising.”

    yes. now that you mention it, those positions are not what i would’ve predicted. hmmmm.

    (assistant village idiot, why aren’t you on twitter?!)

    Reply

  15. @minnie pax – “Kind of OT, but have you read this old Kevin MacDonald piece on what makes Northwest Europeans unique?”

    yes, thanks! that’s on the ever growing List of Things to Blog About. (*^_^*)

    Reply

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