The Null Device
The neophilia gene?
Researchers in Japan have found an enzyme correlated with novelty-seeking tendencies
it seems that genetic differences mean that people produce different variations of a mitochondrial enzyme called monoamine oxidase A. That's according to research from the Yamagata University School of Medicine in Japan, which was recently published in the scientific journal Psychiatric Genetics and mentioned in the New Scientist magazine.
The researchers found that one form of this enzyme was "significantly associated with higher scores of novelty seeking." In other words, people who produce that form of the enzyme are more likely to have novelty-seeking traits in their personality than others.
This suggests that there may be a genetic cause for neophilic tendencies. Though some are skeptical about whether a neophilia gene could work:
Colin Campbell, a professor of sociology at the University of York in the UK, has studied the nature of consumerism, and he believes that the existence of novelty seeking is a relatively new phenomenon. So it can't by definition be genetic.
"Pre-modern societies tend to be suspicious of the novel. It is a feature of modernity that we are addicted to novelty," says Campbell. Campbell dates the emergence of novelty seeking to the beginnings of the industrial revolution in the mid 18th century. As he explains, "Modern fashion evolved then."
I'm not sure about that. For one, a neophilia gene would cause a predisposition to novelty, which could be indulged or otherwise by the society, culture and economy the individual is in; unless it proved maladaptive (i.e., by making the carriers less likely to pass their genes on), it wouldn't be selected out.
And while it may be true that individuals in pre-modern societies would find less to gratify their neophilic tendencies than the white-earphoned, designer-label-wearing channel-surfers and BlackBerry addicts of today, it could also be said that our hunter-gatherer ancestors, being unable to walk into a Krispy-Kreme outlet, had less to satisfy their taste for fatty and sugary foods than today, though it is widely accepted that such a taste evolved back then, when small, expensively-obtained amounts of such food were more likely to ward off malnutrition than cause obesity. It could well be that a "neophilia gene", if one exists, evolved in similar circumstances.
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