We’ve all fallen for a prank at some point or another — whether it be “hey, your shoe’s untied” or getting surprised at your birthday party after your friend asks you to “just pick up something from the house.” Most people become more wary as they get older but other people manage to remain fundamentally trusting and are now the sole reason spam mail continues to exist. But uncovering the genetic and environmental factors influencing gullibility would have important applications not only in Internet advertising but also in the understanding of every day human interactions.
In a study published this week in the Theoretical Journal of Social Genetics, a team of researchers from The Netherlands identified a genetic variant associated with gullibility in 3140 individuals of European ancestry who believed a spurious claim and 3315 European individuals who remained skeptical. Each copy of the G version of rs40110 increased the odds of being gullible by about 2.6 times. This variant is located within a gene called IPO11, which is involved in the transport of proteins within the cell, but the mechanisms through which this gene and rs40110 affect our ability to critically evaluate information remains unclear.
Hej Imgullbel, one of the scientists leading the study, hailed the finding as an essential step towards elucidating the genetics underlying persuasion and gullibility.
“The thought that we might be able to identify why some people are more easily taken advantage of than others — and potentially help them become less susceptible — is extremely motivating,” he announced in a press release. “I was always the butt of jokes growing up and I never knew why. Now I know a little bit — I am GG at rs40110, it turns out — and this is just the beginning.”
Indeed, other researchers studying the topic have found another gene — located near IPO11, and potentially linked — that influences gullibility, identified by studying the neurons in a part of the brain that is unusually active in people who tend to believe papers that invoke fancy brain scans.