An article in the NY TIMES, Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Other Fall Apart, explains that there might be a genetic component. Today, a student’s academic future weighs so heavy on standardized tests in grade school to achievement test for college. The message students are getting is that class work no longer counts and what count are the standardized tests. There is a genetic component to a person’s response to competitive pressure. The gene COMT could tell us why some thrive under pressure while other melt. COMT codes for the enzyme that clears dopamine from the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that makes decisions, plans, and anticipates consequences and fixes conflict.
There are two COMT variations of the gene, one builds enzymes that remove the dopamine slowly, and the other builds enzymes that remove the dopamine very fast. A person has one or the other variation, or a combination of the COMT variations. Experiments have shown that the variation with slow moving enzymes have advantages while performing cognitive tasks and this advantage gets better with education. While people with the fast moving enzymes are lazy and the enzyme might remove too much dopamine. These results might have you think that you only want slow moving enzymes, but the slow enzymes are triggered by stress.
We inherit one COMT gene from out father and one from our mother, so most of us have a mixed variation. The fast enzymes are the Warriors and the slow enzymes are the Worriers, to survive through evolution we need both Warriors and Worriers. There are military studies looking at COMT gene, possibly connecting it to post-traumatic stress disorder and combat performance and well being. Navy Seals are looking are pilots to see what variation, and about a third were Worries.