Are You a Dick on Purpose or Were You Just Born That Way?

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When I was a kid, any time I came home and complained that someone at school had been a dick to me, my mom always said the same thing: "Well, she probably has a hard life." First of all, thanks for getting my back, mom! And second of all, maybe you're WRONG. Maybe some dicks are just born that way.


In a totally fascinating (and, sure, iffy) new study, researchers have found that some people might have a genetic predisposition toward niceness. Via an online survey, the study attempted to identify whether or not participants "viewed the world as a threatening place" and also asked participants to submit saliva samples. They then analyzed the spit samples for the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin and cross-referenced those results with how "nice" the participant appeared to be:

As the authors of the new study expected, people who see the world as a threatening place tended to not engage in charitable activities - except if they had particular variants of the receptor genes that the researchers were looking for.

It turns out that if the receptors are especially sensitive to oxytocin and vasopressin, even people who fear others in society will do nice things, said Michael Poulin, assistant professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo and study co-author.

"We've found that these genes also predict people's willingness to be nice on behalf of other people or aggressive on behalf of other people," Poulin said. In other words, such biological factors may influence your willingness to defend someone else.

Neat! Obviously their sample is relatively small (only 348 people) and this isn't anything close to a direct causal relationship between inheriting shitty genes and having a shitty attitude. But it's still a fun thought experiment, and just might shed some light on why certain people insist on being mean even though being mean is obviously the worst ("the worst" is a technical term, right? Science Talk With Lindy West™!!!). Like, should this study's hypothesis prove 100% true some day, what would that mean for the future of America's dicks?

On the one hand, I think that moving our collective thinking away from "nurture" and closer to "nature" can benefit people who are vilified and marginalized for innate characteristics (high-five, gays!). But, on the other hand, "nature" can cut both ways—racists love to spin systemic social issues into innate characteristics (no high-five for you, eugenics), and I'm certainly not interested in forgiving assholishness on the basis of DNA. (And anyway, our broader goal should really be to render "nature vs. nurture" irrelevant—it shouldn't matter whether any person was "born" or "made" in any way, because people are people and people deserve respect.)

I guess my point is, I don't care about your genetic code, nobody gets a free pass for being a dick. If your mom's a dick and your dad's a dick, maybe it's hard for you to not be a dick, but please, just TRY. That's your responsibility as a human. And if you even don't bother trying, then you, my friend, are a fucking dick.

Photo credit: (C) godfer / Stockfresh.



If a stroke victim who lay in a coma for several months, lose all ability to speak and walk, and through grueling hard work can regain both of those abilities, then naturally mean people can learn how to not be dicks. The most hardwired aspect of our brain is not its love of red berries or 0.7 hip-to-waist ratios or knowing how to parallel park with our testicles, it's the brain's innate plasticity and malleability. The argument for allowing gay people to live the way they want shouldn't be "oh, they're born this way," it should be, "why the fuck not?"