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Do genes play a role in toxic behaviour?

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The role of nature and nurture in toxic behaviours

Genes and Neurology

Did you know that some people are neurologically inclined to be more negative in their behaviour?

These safe and unsafe behaviours are derived from nature (inherited) or nurture (environmental). Research shows that cognitive ability, personality, family history and nutrition all play a role in determining a person’s positive and negative behaviours.

Let’s look at a closer look at genetics and toxic behaviour

The role of nature and nurture in toxic behaviours

Watch the video to understand the effect that our genetics has on our tendency towards counterproductive behaviours at work, and how our family environment, diet and past experience also play a role.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 3 – Does Intelligence Influence Toxic Behaviour?

And watch the previous video here:

Part 1 – What are the characteristics of a toxic person?

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number two, in our 11 video series on toxic behaviours at work.

This one is all about genes and neurology. Fascinating topic.

Did you realise that some people are neurologically inclined to be more negative in their behaviours than others? So let’s look at some of the evidence on that topic.

Safe or unsafe behaviours that we see for employees come from two sources; nature, which is all about the genetic, the inherited, and nurture, which is all about the stuff that we develop in the course of our life.

So nature, you’ll see that things like cognitive ability is there, the degree to which somebody is intelligent, appears to be about 70 to 80% genetically determined.

You will get arguments about what the percentage is, but we know that the majority of cognitive ability is genetically determined.

We know that from twin studies.

We also know that personality is very heavily genetically determined and we also know that integrity, the tendency to do positive or negative things, is quite heavily genetically determined, which is kind of surprising. Integrity being are you likely to do good behaviours or bad behaviours?

So there’s a strong genetic component in that. And certainly, twin studies have indicated that it could be as high as 50 to 60%.

So negative behaviours like violence tend to run very heavily in families, even if the members of the family haven’t met each other. And then of course, there’s the nurture side of things, which is to do with your skills and experience, and attributes like your values, and attitudes and those kinds of things.

Creating an optimum corporate culture

But first, let’s talk about the levers that you need to create the optimum corporate culture in any organisation. And they are twofold.

First is the quality of people that you let in through the front door.

And second, is how you lead them once they’re in.

In the early part of this video series, we’re talking about the stuff about recruiting, well, to make sure that you bring in people who are likely to have positive characteristics, and exclude those who are likely to have negative characteristics.

Later on, we’ll be talking about leadership.

How you can cause your workplace to be more cohesive by virtue of how you lead it.

Warrior gene

Neurologically, there are a number of foundation markers for violence. And this is from the work of a gentleman by the name of Adrian Raine, who in 2013 wrote a very famous book called “The Anatomy of Violence.”

So first they talk about a thing called the warrior gene.

You may have heard of the warrior gene.

The warrior gene is a gene variant and people who have this particular gene variant are inclined to be more violent than those who don’t.

Now, something like 30% of males are estimated as having the warrior gene.

So why are not all of these people violent? Well, it turns out that if you have the warrior gene and you have some other markers, in particular, early childhood trauma, particularly violent trauma, then that makes it much more likely that your warrior gene characteristics are more likely to play out.

But Adrian Raine discovered in his work when he went to death rows in America, a very large proportion of them had the warrior gene. But yes, they also had traumatic experiences in growing up or privation.

Low heart rates

Couple of other things that can contribute to this; one, and this got quite a lot of press at the time, is that people with low heart rates can be more violent than people with high heart rates.

Now we know that heart rate varies for a range of different reasons, but in large populations, people with lower heart rates tend to be slightly more violent than people with higher heart rates.

And it has been coupled with things like psychopathy.

Family history

In addition to that, if you’ve got a family history of violence, which includes sexual crime, even when separated at birth, what you’ll find is that when one twin is likely to do one of these things, then the other twin is likely too, even if they are separated in different countries.

So there’s a strong component there.

And of course, as I mentioned earlier, neglected and deprived background is an extremely strong marker of the tendency to be like this, particularly, if coupled with the warrior gene.


And finally nutrition.

There’s evidence that people who grow up eating particularly high glycemic foods, sugary foods, foods that are in fact low in other forms of nutrition, they are more likely to be violent than people, or toxic generally, than people who’ve grown up eating whole foods, healthy foods, foods that have to be processed.

So in effect, low glycemic foods, which means foods that are not starchy, not sugary, and therefore have to be digested more effectively.

And so what seems to be going on there is that when people eat good diets, particularly whole food diets, they are more likely to be balanced.

And what we’ve discovered in our work in the corrections sector, where people are eating poor diets, if they become incarcerated, the fact that they’re getting more healthy food during the period of incarceration, prison officers will often tell you that people calm down, even if they weren’t abusing other substances before they came into jail.

Quite often, the fact that they’re eating healthy food, they seem to mellow out over the course of a week or two, and become more responsive and more reasonable.

So diet can have an effect on people’s degree of positive and negative behaviours.

Brain activity

And then there’s the fascinating question of brain activity. Here, we have a picture of two brains (refer to video).

This is Joe Average, it’s a male, and this is a fellow by the name of Antonio Bustamente.

Now Antonio Bustamente is a really important individual from a neurological history point of view, because Antonio Bustamente was in fact, one of the very first cases at law where a person’s sentence was commuted and reduced by virtue of the fact, their brain activity.

And in fact, what had happened is that you can see from Antonio Bustamente’s brain scan that the prefrontal cortex, which in Joe Average is quite active here, was very low in activity for Antonio Bustamente.

Now defence led the argument that because Antonio Bustamente had a very much reduced prefrontal cortex activity, what that meant is that he had lower levels of self-control.

And in fact, that was accepted by the court, and Antonio Bustamente’s sentence was reduced, based on the fact that he had less self-control than Joe Average.

And so that’s a case where, you know, we used to say “The Devil Made Me Do It,” well, you could say that in a sense, my brain made me do it, because whilst I had all of the anger, I didn’t have the self-control to manage these things.

Now, I guess around about now, you’re starting to wonder if I’m suggesting that we should gene sequence or brain scan everybody that we hire.

Well, we won’t be doing that any time soon, but we will show you in the subsequent next few videos that there are other markets, things like personality and cognitive ability, which in fact tap into some of these genetic effects, but can be measured much more easily.

So the very next video in this sequence is about IQ and toxic behaviours. How smart you are.

Does that affect how your behaviour is likely to be in terms of positive or negative behaviour?

Join us for the next video to find out.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about dealing with toxic employees:

Part 3 – Does Intelligence Influence Toxic Behaviour?

And watch the previous video here:

Part 1 – What are the characteristics of a toxic person?

And if you’d like some help screening future hires for toxic behaviour, contact us about our Psychometric Assessment Tools.

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