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Genetics Predisposes for Heavy Drinking After Watching Heavy Drinking

People with a particular variant of a dopamine receptor were more likely to drink more after watching other people drink heavily. Karen Hopkin reports

Spend any time in a bar, and sooner or later you’ll hear, “I’ll have what she’s having.” It sounds like a bad pickup line, but there may be an actual biological basis for this kind of alcohol copycat behavior. Because scientists have found that having the gene for a certain dopamine receptor could predispose you to being influenced by the sight of other people drinking.

Volunteers were ushered into a lab set up to look like a pub. They were asked to do some busywork, then told that during the break they should help themselves to some adult beverages. While they watched, shills planted by the scientists immediately liquored up.

The study subjects were then tracked to see how much they drank after watching others toss ‘em back. When the plants could be seen having just one drink, all the subjects drank similar amounts. But when the plants had at least three drinks, some participants drank twice as much as others. And DNA tests showed that the heavier drinkers had a particular variant of a dopamine receptor called DRD4. The work appears in the journal Psychological Science. [Helle Larsen et al., bit.ly/cU7vgJ.]

Next, the search for genes that make people order drinks with those little umbrellas.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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