Ok guys, given the chance just how much hot sauce would you force a thief to drink if he took your money?
What? Never thought about that before? Well McDermott et al. (2009) give us a chance to sit back and ponder punishment by Tabasco, and how your genotype might tell something about your willingness to physically punish someone.
How would you feel if you just earned a nice wad of cash for answering vocabulary test questions, and then you were told that someone linked by computer took 20% of your earnings? How about if 80% of your earnings vanished? It turns out that in a sample of 78 males the ones with a low activity variant of the gene MAOA were only a little bit upset when 20% of their earnings were taken, but when 80% was taken there was a tendency to fly off the handle. Participants were told that they had an opportunity to get back at the thief by forcing him to drink Tabasco (hot) sauce, and it turned out that the low activity MAOA genotypes portioned out more hot sauce to the thief than people with the high activity variant of the gene. In the end no one actually ever ingested the Tabasco sauce (the thief was actually a computer), but the willingness to physically punish appears to be clearly demonstrated here. It is interesting to see, at least in this case, how genetically determined our behaviour may be. What genes will we come across next?
McDermott, R., Tingley, D., Cowden, J., Frazzetto, G. and Johnson, D.D.P. 2009. Monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA) predicts behavioural aggression following provocation. PNAS online early edition. link