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Wanderlust: Is it genetic?

As the world becomes more globalized, traveling keeps getting easier. Low-cost flights have made going away for a short weekend or a long vacation as easy as pie. It is the best time to be alive for those of us who cannot stay in one place. Some people seem to have an unquenchable thirst to explore – seeing and trying new things. They generally just keep moving around, undertaking new challenges and breaking the mold. Known as wanderlust, people normally consider it as just a personality trait that stems from curiosity. However, recent studies have linked this feeling to our DNA, specifically, to something known as the ‘wanderlust’ gene.

The DRD4-7R gene

The ‘wanderlust’ gene is a mutation of the DRD4 gene. The gene DRD4, in humans, is responsible for the control of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to rewarding the brain when achieving something and to pleasure. 

The mutated gene, DRD4-7R, is a variant of this gene that makes people want to take dangerous risks, try new experiences, and crave change and novelty. According to The National Geographic, this mutation is found in approximately 20% of humans. Furthermore, a study by Chuansheng Chen from the University of California, Irvine, discovered that the DRD4-R7 mutation was predominant in nomadic communities as opposed to sedentary cultures. Therefore, this mutation can be connected to human migration, and by extension, a need to travel, exploration, and impulsivity. Read National Geographic’s article to find more about the topic.


A determining gene in human behaviour?

However, correlation does not imply causation. These studies show merely a correlation and a pattern. It doesn’t mean that this mutation is the sole factor in determining whether a person is more impulsive than another. Ebstein, a NUS professor who has studied this gene for twenty years, stated that a single gene does not determine whether we want to go out and explore the world or stay at home. His claim is supported by other social behaviorists as well. Genes like this only show a potential inclination towards a certain behavior in some degree or other.

Even the researcher that conducted the previously mentioned study, Chuansheng Chen, suggested that “the research pushes forward the idea that this gene was selected because people migrated, not that this pushed people to migrate”. The mutation could have just survived in people of migratory cultures. Nevertheless, all agree that the mutation is strongly correlated with a feeling of “wanderlust”.

Genes are not deterministic and scientists need to perform more studies on DRD4-R7 before drawing any conclusions. Despite this, it could give a reason for the innate passion for traveling an exploring some seem to have. So, next time you realize that you are way more of a risk-taker and a wanderer than the people you know, it could potentially be in your genes.


Edited by Briana Fannin