Our Genes and Desire for Sensation Seeking Might Influence Entrepreneurship

I want to report on a study I recently did to examine how our genetic make up might influence whether or not we become entrepreneurs.

We surveyed 3,454 twins, comprising 870 pairs of identical and 857 pairs of same sex fraternal twin pairs from the Twins UK registry — the national volunteer twin register in the U.K. We examined whether genetic factors influenced:

(1) starting a new business;

(2) being an owner-operator of a company;

(3) engaging in the firm start-up process; and

(4) self-employment.

We found that between 37 and 42 percent of the difference in the tendency of the people in the sample to engage in entrepreneurship is accounted for by genetic factors.

This much replicated previous work we had done.

But we also looked at a psychological trait of sensation seeking. People high in sensation seeking have a need for novel experiences, seek out change and approach new situations more positively than other people.

We replicated previous studies that show that a significant part of the difference between people in sensation seeking is influenced by our genetic make-up. More importantly, we found that between 31 and 46 percent of the portion of the difference in the tendency to engage in entrepreneurship among people in the sample that is influenced by our genes is mediated by sensation seeking.

Although this is just one study and would need to be replicated, the results suggest that one way that genes affect the tendency of people to engage in entrepreneurship is by affecting the distribution of the personality trait of sensation seeking across people.

See also: Born Entrepreneurs?

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About the Author: Scott Shane is A. Malachi Mixon III, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of seven books, including Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By and Finding Fertile Ground: Identifying Extraordinary Opportunities for New Ventures


Scott Shane

Scott Shane Scott Shane is A. Malachi Mixon III, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of nine books, including Fool's Gold: The Truth Behind Angel Investing in America ; Illusions of Entrepreneurship: and The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By.

7 Reactions

  1. Another very interesting article Scott. I would think that at some level all entrepreneurs are sensation seekers at heart. It is always interesting to hear how behavior and risk taking is related to our genes in some way or another.

  2. Some people are addicted to the startup adrenaline. And needing new experiences and new adventures to hold their interest. I find it fascinating that research bears out that it’s gene-related.

  3. Agree Anita, some people just have that need for adrenaline high,but the positive approach, attitude and how bad do you want it also plays a big part. Great article Scott!

  4. I think that it must be in my genes. My dad, grandfather and uncles have all left careers to start their own business and work for themselves.

    I have always aspired to doing it, and so when the time came it was an easy decision, as I had seen role models doing it before. It could be as much nuture as nature…

  5. Sounds to me like it’s conclusive proof that ADHD causes us to work our fingers to the bones because we can’t handle the desk jobs.

    Or, maybe not. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Martin Lindeskog


    Have you read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins? I haven’t read it, but I understand it is an important book on nature of evolution.


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