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The inability to learn from our mistakes could be genetic

Do you have the feeling that you repeat the same mistakes over and over again? Our inability to learn from mistakes might be connected to a genetic mutation!

Scientists have discovered that the cause of our repetitive mistakes does not lie only in our thinking. A mutation in the DRD2 gene can be the responsible for our inability to learn from mistakes.

But how "learning from mistakes" could be related to genetics?

The knowledge gained from previous mistakes has a great impact on the decisions we take every day. We learn from previous mistakes and gain experience for not taking the wrong path again. People who carry the two favourable copies of the DRD2 – a gene that affects the effectiveness of learning from mistakes – tend to easily learn from previous errors. Studies have shown that around 65% of the population have such a genetic makeup. Good for them, isn't it? But for the other 35% of the population? 

Learning from mistakes: the first form of learning

Synapses are narrow gaps between neurons through which biochemical transmitters travel and transmit information between the nerve cells. Genetic mechanisms that control the movement of those transmitters – such as dopamine and serotonin – could affect the differences between individuals’ behaviour and decision-making. People who have a mutation in the genes that are important for the functioning of these systems are more susceptible to alcoholism, smoking and obesity.


inability to learn from mistakes

One of the genes that play an important role is the one named DRD2 which encodes for the dopamine D2 receptor. Certain variants of this gene may impact the decision-making based on an individual’s negative past experiences.

Imaging studies have revealed that the carriers of two rare copies of the gene DRD2 show less activity in the frontal area of the brain when carrying out tasks associated with mistakes committed in the past and are consequently less effective in learning from mistakes. These people have fewer dopamine receptors, suggesting that dopamine signalling is important for learning from mistakes. This DRD2 gene variant is responsible for a smaller number of binding sites for dopamine in the brain, resulting also in difficulties in quitting smoking and a higher probability for drug use.

So, next time you see yourself repeating the same mistakes once again, just remember: the cause might be a genetic mutation!



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