Donald Trump is not making science great again. He has said that vaccines cause autism and — despite protestation to the contrary — that climate change is a hoax concocted by the Chinese. Trump is so epically anti-science that the concerned staff of Scientific American took the unprecedented step of endorsing the principles of science over him. But even a really orange stopped watch is right twice a day and Trump does seem to understand one thing: behavioral genetics.
Trump has said that “some people cannot genetically handle pressure” and, sexist implications aside, he’s correct. Genetic factors do influence the development of psychological traits. As a team of University of Colorado researchers comment in Nature, genes influence morphology and physiology while creating “the scaffold for learning, memory, and cognition, remarkable mechanisms that allow animals to acquire and store information about their environment for use in shaping their behavior.”
Accordingly, there is a clear connection between genetics and the likelihood of anxiety — which goes back to Trump’s idea that some people’s genetics help their handling of pressure. A “genetic disposition to anxiety is undoubted,” writes Dr. Deborah Morris-Rosendahl in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, who proved that serotonin gene is correlated specifically with anxiety phenotypes.
But where Trump is wrong is the thought that it is genes alone that put someone on the pass to success — like when he said in 2010 that “I really believe that a leader is born more so than made.” Scientists know that there’s a genetic influence on psychology, but they don’t know how strong that influence actually is. The general consensus is that the genetic influence on the Big Five personality dimensions is between 40 and 50 percent. Environment strongly influences the development of behavior, as well as offers the chance to adjust behavior to circumstance.
While we’re not ready to give out any Nobel prizes yet (Trump’s genetics theories seem more terrifyingly related to eugenics than anything) this may be the miracle of this election season: Donald Trump almost getting something right about science.
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