People who are impatient may in fact have shorter telomeres, which are regions of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome that defend the rest of the chromosome from shortening or erosion, a new study suggests.
Soo Hong Chew, co-author of the study and a professor of economics at the National University of Singapore, said that the new findings show that people’s telomere length may be linked with their level of impatience.
In the new study – published on Monday (Feb. 22) in the journal PNAS – the researchers analysed the connection between telomere length and impatience in more than one thousand undergraduate students in Singapore.
To measure the participants’ levels of impatience, the researchers asked them to choose between receiving a smaller amount of money the following a day, or more money in about a month. The students also underwent a blood test, which helped the researchers figure out the lengths of each individual’s telomeres.
At first, the study participants were asked to choose between receiving $100 the following day and receiving $101 in about a month’s time. Then, they had to choose between receiving $100 the next day and getting $104 in about a month. The researchers kept increasing the amount of money that the participants would receive in the second option. By the last task, they had to choose between receiving $100 the following day and $128 about a month later.
According to the researchers, the level of impatience depended on how much money it took to convince a person to delay getting the money. The higher the amount of money they needed, the greater the impatience level.
The findings showed that people with shorter telomeres also had higher levels of impatience, compared with study participants who had lower levels of impatience, the researchers said.
Chew and his colleagues noted that the study found an association between shorter telomeres and impatience and not a cause-and-effect relationship. It is still unclear whether impatience may lead to having shorter telomeres, or if having shorter telomeres may increase a person’s level of impatience, the researchers said.
Previous studies have linked impatience to an increased risk of mental disorders, so it may be possible that greater impatience levels could actually lead to shorter telomeres, according to Chew.
The new study has also shown that the link between impatience and shorter telomeres was more prevalent in women than in men. That might mean that women’s telomeres are more sensitive to the effects of impatience, than men’s telomeres, the researchers explained. Other researchers have shown that psychological factors, like stress, are linked with telomere shortening in women.
A follow-up study will be conducted by the researchers to better understand the relationship between telomeres and impatience. Chew and fellow researchers want to see whether the preservation of a person’s telomere length can be achieved by enhancing people’s patience.
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