There are some people who never feel the urge to leave their home. They’re content growing up in the same place, going to college in the same town, sitting on the same couch, and surrounding themselves with the same people.
On the other extreme side of the spectrum are the wanderlusters – or explorers, rebels, thrill-seekers, whatever you want to call them – who can’t sit still and have a constant itch to explore. They have a thirst to see and experience as much of the world as possible. A thirst cannot be quenched no matter how many journeys or vacations they take.
There’s no one place that they call home, because home is everywhere.
It turns out, there’s a scientific explanation.
In 1999, four scientists from UC Irvine published a paper titled “Population Migration and the Variation of Dopamine D4 Receptor (DRD4) Allele Frequencies Around the Globe” that explored the migration patterns and gene pool distribution of pre-historic human beings. They were originally researching for links between dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) and Attention Deficit Disorder. While conducting the study, they discovered another weird correlation: people with the DRD4 genes tend to be thrill-seeking and migratory. And almost all study participants with this gene had a long history of traveling. From the study’s conclusion:
“As previous research has shown, long alleles of the DRD4 gene have been linked to novelty-seeking personality, hyperactivity, and risk-taking behaviors … It can be argued reasonably that exploratory behaviors are adaptive in migratory societies…usually harsh, frequently changing, and always providing a multitude of novel stimuli and ongoing challenges to survival”
“The findings revealed a very strong association between the proportion of long alleles of the DRD4 gene in a population and its prehistorical macro-migration histories.”
The DRD4 bearers were genetically pre-disposed to migrate, but only a small portion of the human genetic pool contains this trait. Whereas most of the population preferred to “[develop] intensive methods for using limited amounts of land”, these DRD4 thrill seekers actively sought out uninhabited lands “for more successful exploitation of resources in the particular environment”
These wanderlusters were the crucial movers who pushed human civilizations out of Mesopotamia, spanning societies into Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.
Other studies have supported this finding. In an investigation published by the National Geographics, journalist David Dobbs set out to find out why human beings travel. From the article:
“No other mammal moves around like we do,” says Svante Pääbo, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where he uses genetics to study human origins. “We jump borders. We push into new territory even when we have resources where we are. Other animals don’t do this. Other humans either. Neanderthals were around hundreds of thousands of years, but they never spread around the world. In just 50,000 years we covered everything. There’s a kind of madness to it. Sailing out into the ocean, you have no idea what’s on the other side. And now we go to Mars. We never stop. Why?”
All evidence pointed to the DRD4 gene again. Dobbs found that there are dozens of studies that correlated DRD4 gene with increased desire to “explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.”
The natural desire to explore is most intensely expressed in children, who aggressively form hypotheses in their minds and experiment. Can I place this block on another one without toppling over? Will I get the cookie if I cry or ask nicely? What happens if I hit the person who takes my toy, will they give my toy back or fight back? What if I hop over this fence I’m not suppose to; will I find new things to do? Such ruthlessly efficient hypothesis testing makes children natural adventurers.
And people who retain this adventurous trait in adulthood are the explorers. The ones who dare to venture into unchartered territories.
The ones who push human civilizations forward.
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