Freaky Evonomics: Dopamine Genes Running Across the Border

What makes people flee violence and endure danger of illegal border crossings to come to the United States?

What makes people risk carrying illegal drugs across the border?

And, what makes the millions of American citizens in the US crave illegal drugs in the US?

One could blame bad parents, too lax or too harsh parents. One could blame believing in the wrong religion or no religion. Those judgments cannot see impossibly tiny dopamine genes that do not respond to social, physical, and biological events in a “moral way”. Those genes change how dopamine is expressed in our brains, and how we are embodied in the flesh and behavior. Those genes have spread in humans for good reason.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that a good portion of people exposed to violence, deprivation or human caused oppression become quite impulsive and violent—even fearless. Another good portion of humans may hunker down and try to hide or disappear under the same conditions, perhaps seeking drugs to soothe themselves.

Dopamine depletion or pruned dopamine receptors in the brain make people do things that seem illogical, dangerous.  Except, it’s not so foolish from the dopamine gene’s perspective.  These responses seem to be a function of variations, often called alleles of dopamine genes.

Not to be too technical, I have to remind folks, that genes struggle to survive just as individuals do. This is a great revolution in understanding of evolution of selfish genes that happened in the 1970s. Here’s the scoop, selfish genes make foolish people do, to paraphrase a line from Chris Isaacs’s song hit, “Wicked Game.” I’m none to happy to know that there are genes in me that care not one whit if I survive or thrive, only if they do.

I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about the underlying Freaky Evonomics driving our problems at the border.  Remember, Freaky Evonomics is Freakonomics + evolutionary history that selects genes to solve problems.  So I am going to, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

So, here we go. You are in a group of humans. Bad things happen that threaten you and your peoples. Your neighboring humans want to kill you, eat you or enslave you. Or, the environment dramatically changes, which means there won’t be enough food, water or other resources to sustain you and yours.

Your choice: Stay or move. Some of you have genes that scream “stay”, others have genes that say “leave.”  Which genes spread across the planet: stayer or mover genes?  Do the math!!!  Lot’s of stayers die, and don’t reproduce in their dangerous settings in the same frequency. And a quite a few people who leave don’t make it, but enough make it to the promise land, where they have babies. Their babies have babies, and they move over the next hill and the next hill for each successive generation.  You have just described the spread of dopamine receptor 7 and 2 repeats across the planet—along the routes humans took from Africa to Europe, Asia and the Americas. The further away from Africa humans are, the more likely they were to have either of these two dopamine versions. Check it out,


Stayer genes say, “don’t take risks.” Mover genes say, “move your butt and get the heck outta here.” Which humans went from the Siberia, Beringa and then to the tip of South America?  Which genes boarded canoes for a move all across the Pacific?  Which genes left the original 13 colonies to cross the Cumberland Gap?

It wasn’t the stayer genes, and those moving genes are screaming to leave Central America where terrible threats are happening every moment. If you stay there in Honduras or other wretched, violent places, the chances are you will be killed or consumed or controlled parasitically. Please remember, dopamine gene variations 7 or 2 alleles have absolutely no understanding or care about national or “legal” boundaries. No, those alleles are all about survival, come what may. Again, recall the Jurassic Park movies, set in the same areas: “Life finds a way.”

Next installment of Freaky Evonomics: How and why the same dopamine 7 and 2 gene variations are the cause of the USA being the number one consumer of illegal drugs from across the border.


About Dennis Embry

Since 1979, Dennis D. Embry, now president/senior scientist at PAXIS Institute in Tucson, AZ, has been designing, testing and disseminating interventions that prevent or reduce the risk from mental, emotional and behavioral disorders among children and youth in the United States and other countries. All of these interventions have dealt with a variety of troubling problems: issues of inattentive, disturbing, disruptive or impulsive behaviors, military deployments, or the effects of such behaviors (e.g., injuries, substance abuse, tobacco use, school failure, child maltreatment). Since the late 1990s, Dr. Embry’s papers and projects have integrated behavioral science, brain science and evolutionary theory to create effective practices and policies, particularly testing large-scale strategies for prevention. He is one of the few prevention scientists in the world to have conducted multiple population-level prevention efforts for communities, counties, states/provinces, tribes, or nations. For example, one of Dr. Embry’s NREPP cited efforts (Reward & Reminder) is the only scientifically proven environmental policy documented to produced state level prevention effects using a controlled study across multiple states. In the 1990s, he developed the largest youth violence prevention study in the US, called PeaceBuilders, with an implementation in more than 80 schools in Tucson with an embedded randomized-control trial and a community-wide social marketing campaign. In the early 1990s, Secretary of Defense hired Dr. Embry to recommend and implement protocols to help children and families of deployed military during the Gulf War and the efforts in Somalia, and to prevent or reduce trauma effects. In the 1980s, Dr. Embry worked with Sesame Street and, later, the Government of New Zealand on the first scientifically proven strategies to prevent one of the leading causes of death to preschool age children: being struck by a car while playing outside. Today, Dr. Embry and his colleagues at PAXIS Institute: 1) deliver prevention services all over the country and help private and public entities set up prevention services, 2) teach public and private entities how to improve the quality of those services and measures results, 3) promote prevention strategies for the large and small business in communities, and 4) develop and map prevention to multiple systems in the public and private sectors internationally. Dr. Embry and his colleagues are also technical assistance and training providers for 38 SAMHSA sites using the PAX Good Behavior Game. Dr. Embry’s work is being widely implemented in the United States, Canada, First Nations (Native American Tribes) with new projects beginning in Ireland, Estonia, New Zealand and Australia.

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