Gene of the Week: Wall Street!

Posted by Pete Shanks February 8, 2012
Biopolitical Times

"It's been a tough few years for Wall Street" begins an article in the — oh, right — Wall Street Journal. Coming as it did just as the Dow hit a 45-month high, up 97% from its 2009 low, this statement by itself caused my eyebrows to hit the ceiling and my coffee to hit the desk, all to the strains of the world's tiniest string section.

But that's not the strange part.

The headline of this analytic masterpiece is "The Wall Street Gene."

Neuroeconomists have discovered, apparently, that Wall Street traders and analysts are "a pretty weird bunch." Specifically, they are "very rational and very competitive." So clearly there must be an associated genetic signature, right? "Previous research had shown, for instance, that 29% of the variation in whether or not people invest in stocks depends on their DNA." (It's only a theory, but I'm guessing that a willingness to invest in stocks correlates much better with increased income and assets; call it a hunch.) And other studies have suggested that the neurotransmitter dopamine is associated with risk/reward decisions. Aha! We see the outline of a study proposal.

So these very serious scientists from Claremont Graduate University obtained DNA samples from 60 traders, and 54 graduate students, and checked them for genes known to affect dopamine activity. And they concluded, in a peer-reviewed article published in PLoS One, that traders who have long careers on Wall Street tend to follow the Goldilocks rule (they didn't call it that): not too hot, not too cool, but just right.

So immediately we have speculation about — you may have one guess. Gene testing in the hiring process! From the WSJ article by Jonah Lehrer:

"Given the massive amounts of money at stake, spending a few hundred dollars on a DNA kit might strike Wall Street as a particularly wise investment."

Little matters like federal law are apparently of little account to these masters of the universe. But then, any bunch that can basically halve their assets in 15 months and double them in the next 30 is obviously not infallible when it comes to spotting a good investment. Maybe it really has been tough for them. Indeed, they have a new and creative excuse: their faults clearly lie not in their stars but in their genetic selves.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: