New research suggests the same genes that make us prone to depression could also make us prone to positivity, depending on environmental factors.

Professors Elaine Fox, from Oxford University, and Chris Beevers from the University of Texas at Austin say studies in cognitive bias and genetics must be brought together to better understand how best to tackle mental ill health.

The researchers reviewed a number of studies for their paper in Molecular Psychiatry.

They say that there is a need to combine studies in mental health genetics with those that look at cognitive biases.

“Cognitive biases are when people consistently interpret situations though particular mental ‘filters’. When people have a cognitive bias that emphasizes negative aspects or thoughts, they are more at risk of mental health disorders,” said Beevers.

“There is a lot of research about these biases, and a lot of research about genes that may make people susceptible to mental ill health. However, we suggest that it could make more sense to bring together these two areas of research.”

According to Fox, “If you take a gene that is linked to mental illness, and compare people who have the same genetic variant, it becomes clear that what happens to their mental health is based on their environment. We suggest that while no gene ’causes’ mental ill health, some genes can make people more sensitive to the effects of their environment — for better and for worse.”

Therefore, a combination of genetic predilection plus the environment influences a person’s mental health.

“If you have those genes and are in a negative environment, you are likely to develop the negative cognitive biases that lead to mental disorders. If you have those genes but are in a supportive environment, you are likely to develop positive cognitive biases that increase your mental resilience.”

Fox is currently carrying out further research into this combined genetic and environmental effect on our mental filters, which she has dubbed the “CogBIAS” project.

She intends to see how sets of genes may affect mental health outcomes and how these are moderated by people’s environments.

The hope is that such research may enable us to understand people’s underlying genetic sensitivity and deliver more tailored support to deliver the best possible mental resilience and health for each person.

Source: University of Oxford