Are Anger Issues Genetic?

DNA strand

‘Are anger issues genetic?’ is a common question for those struggling with anger issues. The nature versus nurture debate affects many different aspects of our behaviour, and anger is no different. There have been extensive studies that have sought to find the genes responsible for understanding anger, and some progress has been made. 

In 2010 scientists identified the HTR2B gene as playing an important role in the development of anger. In particular, they found the gene was linked to impulsive and violent behaviour. This is because the gene plays an important role in the production and impact of serotonin in the brain. 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter – a chemical messenger – that is believed to act as a mood stabiliser and promote healthy sleeping patterns. It’s possible that the HTR2B gene could mean that the brain isn’t as effective at dealing with serotonin as it could be, which may make it more difficult to regulate your emotions.

In 2014, Denson et al focused their research on the MAOA gene, one that has been found to have the most robust association with aggression in humans. Men who are aggressive can have a high or low functioning version of this gene. This also may affect the way certain neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine function in the brain.

The current scientific thinking when it comes to the role of genetics in anger is that they are likely to play some role. But it is likely that genetic factors may influence how quick an individual is to anger and the level of arousal. In other words, genetic issues might affect the speed to anger, but they are not the cause of anger issues.

This means it is more likely the case anger issues are not inherited as search, but as with every area of human life, our genetic material can influence us in some way.

Other than a genetic issue, the prevailing opinion is that anger issues are learned behaviours. 

Anger as a learned behaviour tells the story that in early childhood, the environment we live in and the people we spend time with on a daily basis can have a strong influence on our behaviour.

Learned behaviour usually occurs in one of two ways:

MODELLING: The concept whereby whatever a child observes, they will copy and repeat themselves. If when you were younger your caregivers (mum or dad for example) responded to challenging situations by getting angry, you can learn that response. When you then face a challenge yourself, the only model of behaviour you have to deal with the situation is anger, and therefore you adopt that as your strategy.

REINFORCEMENT: During the early experiences of anger, if the behaviour is reinforced or rewarded in some way, the pattern of behaviour gets repeated more and more. If for example, when you demonstrated anger and rage this led to you getting what you wanted, you can learn this communication strategy as a way to successfully get your needs met. The more this behaviour is reinforced, the more likely you are to repeat it again and again.

The significant advantage of this is that any learned behaviour can be changed. There are a wide range of different approaches and techniques which can be used to modify behaviour and help you to change old behaviour patterns.

In summary, there are likely genetic factors that influence anger and aggression in certain individuals. But these influences are likely to modify the anger response as opposed to being the cause of it. It is more likely the primary contributor towards uncontrolled anger is previously learned behaviour from the home or surrounding environment. The conclusion of which for anyone struggling with anger is encouraging as all learned behaviour can be changed and resolved with careful guidance and expert help.

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