I am writing a dystopia and in this world people have been genetically modified for decades to a degree that their emotional abilities are super basic and especially the ability to feel pain is limited.

Could there be a scientific process to make this happen as well as make someone immune against this modification?

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    $\begingroup$ Pain is not an emotion. And what does "emotional abilities" even mean? "If all men count with you, but none too much"? I would say that a little bit more explanation would be helpful. Why make someone immune, for example? Is this state of affairs considered a bad thing? By whom? Why did they do it then? How can someone be immune to something which is encoded in their genes? And to "genetically modify" the human race you need centuries, not decades -- humans need at least 20 years between generations. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 14, 2019 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ The closet we can come to measuring "emotional abilities" is EQ which as best we can tell is primarily environmentally controlled rather than genetic. Pain is a sensory input although peoples emotional response to it can be effected by brain damage. Decades of genetic modification suggests that the whole population is now modified you can't be immune to something that was done to your forebears. As it stands this question doesn't make any sense. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jul 14, 2019 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash I think it is based on the Divergent series. Much of that "world" don't make any sense. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jul 14, 2019 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Lupus You're not wrong there. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jul 14, 2019 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ Both pain perception and emotional capability are requirements for an individual to function in a normal social environment. What you're describing is a world populated by sociopaths who don't feel pain ! Star Trek's Vulcan race is the closest to a functioning socially capable version of what you're describing, but they're supposed to feel both pain and emotions but suppress those mentally (i.e. consciously). $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2019 at 13:10

1 Answer 1



Brain mapping is really complex but we're gradually making headway. A while back, I heard a TED talk about optimism and the thing is that they were able to make people more optimistic or pessimistic by interfering with very specific areas of the brain (More info). In order to do this, your dystopian government would need to map out every part of your brain that had corresponding emotions (which, as a someone who approaches psychology from a biological psychologist, should be possible) and then custom tailor bacteria strains to cut away a target's emotions, targeting these specific centers and unleash them on small children who are just beginning to emotionally develop.\

Why this approach specifically when another solution is to just mildly drug everyone with depressants? Well, this gives your protagonist the ability to resist it because he has rare immunity to this gene-altering bacteria they use.

Shutting down pain is even easier, as you just have these bacteria target the genes which create pain receptors, but it's incredibly stupid. Pain's a pretty useful tool when it comes to human self-preservation, and even a dystopia doesn't want to kill it's citizens without a reason to do so.

  • $\begingroup$ Viral vectors have been used to turn polygamous voles into monogamous voles, so they should also be able to influence personality traits. Viruses have the useful (story-wise) characteristics that your bacteria does, while not being as easy to fight with broad spectrum drugs. The dystopian hospitals could have some hard times ensuring the antibiotics that would work against the patients' infections wouldn't also work against the dystopia bacteria. $\endgroup$
    – aadv
    Jul 14, 2019 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ Viruses are double-edged, they are harder to counter which makes them better to unleash on hapless civilians but harder to keep from spreading to the officials. That said, I think they're both good options. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Jul 14, 2019 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ I think the officials would be vaccinated against the mind control bug in either case, though. $\endgroup$
    – aadv
    Jul 14, 2019 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Halfthawed Even today viruses used in gene-engineering are 'one-time-use' only - they dont have the ability to self-replicate anymore (this is a security/safety feature). Essentially this makes them a thing you assemble and then inject into someone to change their brain/DNA/... $\endgroup$
    – Nicolai
    Jul 15, 2019 at 13:57

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