Science: Tell me about ... luck and our genes

If you believe everything you read, and you read everything, then you might think that the results of some scientific research published last week suggests that some people really are born lucky. That is, that your genes decide how fortunate you are when you roll a dice or play the lottery - or choose to start up your own company. Some people are born with the ability to pick the right six numbers; others bought shares in Korea just before the market slumped.

However, if you think about what genes do, and what luck is, it is clearly impossible for the two to be related. Genes carry the instructions for organisms to make proteins - that is all. Proteins, of themselves, are not lucky or unlucky. It's only prevailing circumstances that make them seem so.

Having a gene that helps your body acquire and hang on to available fat in your food was vital for the ancestors of the Inuit (Eskimo) making a long, cold land journey. It's not the same if you're living in modern America where almost every meal contains lots of fat: you'll become obese and prone to heart disease. But the gene involved is the same.

Furthermore, how can a protein on its own influence the world around us? You could argue that every dinosaur carried the bad luck gene - or at least, didn't have the good luck one - since they were all walking the Earth when a huge asteroid hit it 65 million years ago and wiped them out. But how can we be sure the same won't happen to us?

Also, if there were a "good luck gene", then it would tend to spread throughout the population rapidly: its owners would escape the sabre- tooth tigers, the Black Death, the deadly post-War flu epidemic. Very soon, everyone would have it - making us all equal.

In fact, what the research (by Professor Peter McGuffin at the University of Wales in Cardiff) really showed is that there is a genetic bias about your view of events that happen to you during your life. They polled children and their parents in Cardiff and asked them about their experiences, and their views of so-called "independent life events" - say, your grandmother being hit by lightning, and you stubbing your toe.

Now, these things can either be interpreted as a sign that the gods hate you, or that "these things happen". How you interpret it depends on your view of the world. It turned out that parents and children, especially twins, tend to take similar views.

Equally, the way you behave (which does have some genetic component) can affect both your view of the world, and the way you live: if you think your business is bound to fail, you probably won't try your hardest to make it succeed, and your gloomy prediction will come true.

In short, some people are optimists, and some are pessimists. Some have glasses that are half-full, and some half-empty. Your genes don't make you lucky: they simply help determine which of those you become. So when you don't win the lottery again this week - remember, it's not your genes' fault.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

    £64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

    Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam