Because Dutch people became more self-reliant during the coronavirus pandemic, the extent to which DNA influences their behaviour and wellbeing has become greater. This is the conclusion of a study of 30,000 participants of the Lifelines coronavirus study conducted by the University of Groningen (UG) and the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG).
The researchers discovered that people who have a different genetic predisposition handled the coronavirus pandemic differently. People with a higher genetic predisposition for neurotic behaviour, for example, displayed anxiety around vaccinations more often, and a genetic predisposition for feelings of depression had an effect on reported fatigue over the past year. People with a genetic predisposition for high educational attainment also shook hands with others less frequently, but also washed their hands less frequently. In addition, it appears that people with a genetic predisposition for alcohol consumption experienced difficulty with avoiding food and drink venues. And despite the fact that Dutch people didn’t go skiing or snowboarding this winter, the people who had planned to do so in November were more likely to have a genetic predisposition for risk-taking.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Lifelines participants have completed a survey 19 times. The researchers combined this data with information on the DNA of the participants. In this way, they were able to establish that the influence of heredity on quality of life and fatigue experienced during the coronavirus pandemic became ever greater. The mood of people who were inherently satisfied with their lives was less strongly influenced in a negative manner than the mood of people who were inherently less satisfied with their lives. For the latter group, their experienced quality of life declined more rapidly as the coronavirus pandemic progressed.
Lude Franke is Professor of Genetics at the UMCG and the last author of this study into the link between people’s behaviour and emotions during the pandemic and their genetic blueprint. ‘The coronavirus restrictions considerably put people’s resilience to the test. In addition, social contact – which strongly influences our wellbeing – has often only been possible to a limited extent over the course of the pandemic. Because the pandemic and social isolation have continued for so long, people have become more self-reliant. An important question for us was whether the influence of a person’s environment also lessened while the influence of genetics increased. Our results show that the influence of genetics has continued to increase during the coronavirus pandemic. It must still be recognized, though, that the influence of environmental factors has always remained much greater. This teaches us that the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate strongly depends on the situation in which it is studied.’ Co-author Patrick Deelen from the Department of Genetics at the UMCG adds: ‘In relation to this, we also see indications that genetics contribute to our psychological resilience during times of stress.’
Since March 2020, 30,000 Lifelines participants have regularly completed surveys on their physical and mental health, lifestyle and attitude in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. Because the participants have been contributing to Lifelines research since 2006 and their DNA were recently studied, this unique study was able to be conducted.
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