Study: Genes Make Women Cranky

Why We Itch

Thanks for the lousy temper, Mom and Dad.

Genetics could explain why some women are more ill-tempered than others.

A new University of Pittsburgh study finds genetic variations that deal with the body's mood management chemistry are linked with anger, aggression and hostility in women.

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Indrani Halder and her colleagues had 550 European women complete two anger tests. One included 29 questions that measured physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger and hostility. Participants rated statements on a scale of 1, meaning "extremely uncharacteristic of me," to 7, "extremely characteristic of me," including the following:

  • Once in a while I can't control the urge to strike another person.
  • I flare up quickly but get over it quickly.
  • I have become so mad that I have broken things.
  • My friends say I am somewhat argumentative.
  • At times I feel I have gotten a raw deal out of life.
  • I know that "friends" talk about me behind my back.

Halder also used the Cook-Medley Hostility Scale on subjects, which consists of 50 true-false statements that get at a person's tendency to maintain negative attitudes.

Mood gene

The research team also collected data on subjects related to a gene that helps the body produce serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates emotions and moods, because previous studies have established that elevated serotonin is linked with lower aggression and anger in humans and other animals.

The genetic tests revealed whether the women had zero, one or two of the possible alterations in the promoter region of a specific serotonin receptor gene called 2C. A promoter region is a segment of DNA that helps control the expression of the gene, in this case serotonin.

Women who showed one or both of the genetic variations were more likely to score lower on the tests, meaning greater tendency toward aggressive and angry behaviors.

Not your fault

The results counter some common beliefs that women are to blame for their hostility. And genetic tests for anger could help predict a woman's likelihood of other anger-related diseases.

"Aggression and hostility are predictors of hypertension, glucose metabolism and heart diseases," Halder said. "The genetic marker we found for hostility also may be useful for predicting a person's predisposition to such diseases."

The findings were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Budapest, Hungary.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.