Is lousy driving the outcome of a genetically determined learning disability? A new study at the University of California, Irvine, says: Maybe.
The study may eventually raise broader questions of social, religious, and political ignorance which leads to bigotry — and whether such ignorance might one day be medically treatable.
According to the Booster Shots health blog at the Los Angeles Times:
Seven in 10 of us carry genetic instructions to flood certain regions of the brain with a neurochemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor — or BDNF — when we’re challenged to learn a new aerobics routine, land a plane or navigate a tricky patch of road. It seems to help us learn to do new things.
But 30% of humans have a small variant in their genetic code that results in the release of smaller doses of BDNF when they’re trying to master a new skill that involves physical coordination. These people have brains that are smaller in some key regions. Researchers have observed that when people with this genetic variant suffer a stroke with loss of motor function, they recover more slowly and less completely than those without the variant.
As a result, these people poorly retain learned information:
In the driving challenge — learning to steer down a simulated winding road without drifting off the center line — the group with the genetic variant made 20% more errors than the larger group, were slower to learn and, when tested again four days later, forgot more of what they had learned than had their peers without the variant in the BDNF gene.
A story last month in Science News indicated that deficiencies in BDNF may eventually be treatable.
The ramifications of these findings may reach far wider than the daily commute, and I wish the news media had asked and explored broader questions:
Do people with this or similar deficiencies suffer from increased difficulty or resistance to learning, especially in regard to difficult or challenging facts, no matter how obvious these facts may be?
Does this deficiency, or others like it, correlate to political and religious affiliation? Does it correlate, in particular, to persons who stubbornly resist the ideas and values of others, or to persons who act out their own learning disability through bigoted statements and actions against others?
As far as I know, none of these questions have been explored — but it seems to me that they are well worth further research.