(Photo:Flickr/River Beach)

Having trouble coping with stress and feeling confident? It could be linked to your genes, according to a UCLA study.

Researchers analyzed the DNA saliva of 326 participants and discovered that the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) influences one’s ability to cope well with stress and depression. According to a UCLA press release, oxytocin is a hormone that increases in response to stress and is associated with good social skills such as empathy and enjoying the company of others.

People have trouble with stress and depression when there is a specific variant on the gene, the researchers report:

“At a particular location, the oxytocin receptor gene has two versions: an ‘A’ (adenine) variant and a ‘G’ (guanine) variant. Several studies have suggested that people with at least one “A” variant have an increased sensitivity to stress, poorer social skills and worse mental health outcomes. The researchers found that people who have either two ‘A’ nucleotides or one ‘A’ and one ‘G’ at this specific location on the oxytocin receptor gene have substantially lower levels of optimism, self-esteem and mastery and significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms than people with two ‘G’ nucleotides.”

But study author Shelley E. Taylor emphasized that a positive environment can still win out over genetic predisposition.

“Some people think genes are destiny, that if you have a specific gene, then you will have a particular outcome. That is definitely not the case,” she said. “This gene is one factor that influences psychological resources and depression, but there is plenty of room for environmental factors as well. A supportive childhood, good relationships, friends and even other genes also play a role in the development of psychological resources, and these factors also play a very substantial role in whether people become depressed.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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