Every student can recall at least one stereotypical professor who – while brilliant – kept the students amused with nervous and socially inept behavior. Let’s face it, if you’re in academia, you’re surrounded by these – uh, nerds – and, judging by the fact that you are reading (not to mention writing) this blog right now – probably one of them. So, its natural to ask whether there might be a causal connection between emotionality, on the one hand, and cognitive performance on the other. Research on the neuromodulator serotonin shows that it plays a key role in emotional states – in particular, anxiety. Might it exert effects on cognitive performance ? In their paper, “A functional variant of the tryptophan hydroxylase 2 gene impacts working memory: A genetic imaging study“, (DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2007.12.002) Reuter and colleagues use a genetic variation a G to T snp (rs4570625) in the tryptophan hydroxylase 2 gene, a rate limiting biosynthetic isoenzyme for serotonin to evaluate its effect on a cognitive task. They ask subjects (who are laying in an MRI scanner) to perform a rather difficult cognitive task called the N-back task where the participant must maintain a running memory queue of a series of sequentially presented stimuli. Previous research shows that individuals with the GG genotype show higher scores on anxiety-related personality traits and so Reuter and team ask whether these folks activate more or less of their brain when performing the N-back working memory task. It turns out that the GG group showed clusters of activity in the frontal cortex that showed less activation than the TT group. The authors suggest that the GG group can perform the task using by recruiting less of their brains – hence suggesting that perhaps there just might be a genetic factor that accounts for a possible negative correlation between efficient cognitive performance and emotionality.
My 23andMe profile shows a GG here – nerd to the hilt – what will I use the rest of my PFC for ? Something else to worry about.