Terror gene that can make you laugh too

August 11th, 2008 - 10:59 am ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 11 (IANS) When watching the “Exorcist” did you scream in terror at scenes of spinning heads or did you laugh it off? Depends on which version of the anxiety gene you are born with, scientists say. A new study says there are different versions of the gene linked to feelings of anxiety which explains how different people react differently to horror films.

A particular variant of what is called the ‘COMT’ gene affects a chemical in the brain that is linked to anxiety, they have found.

People who have two copies of one version of the gene are more easily disturbed when viewing unpleasant pictures, the scientists discovered.

That version of the gene weakens the effect of a signalling chemical in the brain that helps control certain emotions.

The scientists found that those carrying two copies of it were significantly more startled by frightening images than others.

By contrast, those who had one copy of the gene and one copy of another version were able to keep their emotions in check far more readily.

The study, published Monday in the scientific journal Behavioural Neuroscience, also found that those with two copies of the latter gene were able to keep a lid on their anxiety more easily, reports the Telegraph.

Researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany made the discovery after testing 96 women.

They showed the women three different types of pictures - emotionally “pleasant” ones of smiling babies and cute animals, “neutral” ones of items like electric plugs or hair driers, and “aversive” ones of weapons or injured victims.

Psychologist Christian Montag, one of the University of Bonn researchers, said he thought the gene variant linked to scaring more easily had only recently evolved, as it was not present in other primates like chimpanzees.

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