By Nick DeMent | Photography John Morin / Owl Staff

Strength and determination invigorate a focused rock climber as he struggles to push his body and soul upwards inches at a time, slowly but surely overcoming gravity and nature itself. As he fights for every ounce of ascension he feels the wind on his skin, the static in the air, and the satisfaction of the victory he knows he will soon achieve.

While rock climbing is just one example of a plethora of activities sought out by those seeking new excitement in their lives, there are many who would be just as happy sitting on a couch watching Netflix.

The behavioral pattern commonly associated with thrill or “novelty” seeking is called “wanderlust,” or an innate and undeniable desire to experience new things and places. It varies from person to person in its intensity, from simple novelty seeking to a voracious
hunger for new knowledge.

“According to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics; an English research council based in London that focuses on human behavior on a biological level, genes are merely blueprints for what we look like and that’s about it.”

Scientists have been researching possible causes into what causes this insatiable itch that some people possess. The answer, some say, is in genetics.

Enter the DRD4 allele, which is the fourth of seven dopamine receptors along a genetic chain. Specifically, the Human Gene Database defines it as a “D4 subtype G-protein coupled receptor.” According to their research, the gene has been associated with “various behavioral phenotypes, including autonomic nervous system dysfunction, attention deficit/hyperactivity
disorder, and the personality trait of novelty seeking.”

But there is another side of this hypothesis. Human behavior is barely, if at all, influenced by genes and you could have the most receptive DRD4 of all time and not feel any sense of existential boredom.

According to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics; an English research council based in London that focuses on human behavior on a biological level, genes are merely blueprints for what we look like and that’s about it.

In their own words “genes determine which proteins are made. They do not determine which behavioral or personality traits an individual possesses.” The common conjecture thus far has been that while genes may play a subtle part in the workings of your desires, ultimately it is shaped by a combination of these genes and your environment.

In an interview with HCC Biology Professor Jaclyn Madden, this idea of a “correlation” between the two was clarified. In addition to agreeing that a correlation between genes and
the environment was a likely cause, Madden states, “many of the traits in our bodies are ‘polygenic,’ meaning that we have multiple genes impacting certain traits for certain behaviors.”

There is more evidence that the DRD4 receptor has a concrete effect on the development of ADHD in children. “Genes are linked to behaviors,” Madden says. “There have been studies that show there could be a genetic predisposition to ADHD.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines ADHD as a “persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” The DNA Learning Center has an ongoing study of the DRD4 allele and its relation to ADHD.

Professor Phillip Shaw, a lead researcher at the facility stated that “if you have this 7-repeat variation of the gene, your risk for having ADHD is increased, and this has been found in many studies.” That being said, their goal is to find ways to predict and help treat ADHD through study of the DRD4 strand.

All this may seem muddled and mostly scientific hypothesis at this moment in time, but Shaw has found physical differences in the biochemistry of the brains of children who have the specific “risk” compared to those who didn’t. Shaw states, “Interestingly we also found that if you have this variation of the gene, that you have quite a distinct pattern of cortical or brain development – the cortex, the gray outer mantle of the brain.”

When asked her personal opinion on the topic, Madden remains on the fence, “I think it’s possible, but it’s still too early and there are so many questions. There just isn’t enough
evidence.” So, it definitely seems this little guy has an effect on certain minute processes in our brains, but it is not a determining factor in the end result of our mental development. When it comes to human behavior, nurture seems to win against its diametric cousin, nature.

As here I sit and mellow into a symbiotic relationship with my couch, there are others who are scaling titanic mountains, mapping ancient cave systems, and traversing the abyssal seas, challenging Poseidon himself and his big golden fork.

So, for all my fellow couch wimps whose trips to amusement park consist of fetching ice cream for their daredevil friends as they wait for them to dismount the terrifying metal snake
that roars overhead, fear not, for you really aren’t any different from them.

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