December 5, 2022

Have Chinese scientists discovered a “singleton gene”?

More evidence that articles about genetic determinism are positively correlated with provocative headlines.

More evidence that articles about genetic determinism are positively correlated with provocative headlines.

In the Daily Mail, the article was headed, “Were you BORN to be single? Scientists discover a gene that makes certain people bad at relationships”; in the Mirror, “’It’s not you, it’s my DNA’: Are you destined to be alone forever as Singleton gene discovered?”; and in the relatively sober Guardian, ‘Happy gene’ may increase chances of romantic relationships”.

The headlines were summing up a study from Peking University, in Beijing, in the journal Scientific Reports. Researchers found that a single gene, 5-HTA1, which affects levels of the mood hormone, serotonin,  “was significantly associated with the odds of being single both before and after controlling for socioeconomic status, external appearance, religious beliefs, parenting style, and depressive symptoms”.

Fifty percent of university students who had two copies of the C variant of the gene were likely to be in relationships, but only 40% of students with the G variant.

But after the large numbers came the small details. The study admitted that the genetic component explained only 1.4% of the difference in the probability of being single or in a relationship. Furthermore, the researchers only interviewed Han Chinese university students. Results with blue-collar workers or with different ethnic backgrounds might produce different results. 

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