In the study, researchers hypothesised that individuals with a particular genotype of a variant of the Catechol-Methyltransferase (COMT) gene perform better in a
simulated air-defense task than would people without that genotype.
The presence of the COMT gene has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which controls executive function (eg memory, reasoning, problem solving). "Dopamine availability in the PFC appears to be particularly important when task demands are high," researcher Raja Parasuraman from George Mason University and colleagues said.
They examined the performance of 99 men and women ages 18 to 38, who were divided into three genotyped groups based on the Val158Met variant of COMT gene.
Over the course of four training blocks, participants controlled six unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in low- and high-task-load conditions to destroy enemy targets, prevent enemy incursions, and avoid friendly fire while attending to a communications task.
The researchers found that participants with the Met/Met genotype of the COMT gene showed more improvement with training and performed better than did those in the other two genotype (Val/Met and Val/Val) groups.
The study was published in the journal Human Factors.