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Dopamine genes are linked to Extraversion and Neuroticism personality traits, but only in demanding climates

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  • Ronald Fischer, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington
  • ,
  • Anna Lee, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington
  • ,
  • Machteld N Verzijden

Cross-national differences in personality have long been recognized in the behavioural sciences. However, the origins of such differences are debated. Building on reinforcement sensitivity theories and gene-by-environment interactions, we predict that personality trait phenotypes linked to dopaminergic brain functions (centrally involved in reward processing) diverge most strongly in climatically stressful environments, due to shifts in perceived rewards vs risks. Individuals from populations with a highly efficient dopamine system are biased towards behavioural approach traits (Extraversion and Emotional Stability) due to higher perceived reward values, whereas individuals from populations with a less efficient dopaminergic system are biased towards risk avoidance. In temperate climates, we predict smaller phenotypic differences due to overall weakened reward and risk ratios. We calculated a population-level index of dopamine functioning using 9 commonly investigated genetic polymorphisms encoding dopamine transporters and receptors, derived from a meta-analysis with data from 805 independent samples involving 127,685 participants across 73 societies or territories. We found strong support for the dopamine gene by climatic stress interaction: Population genetic differences in dopamine predicted personality traits at the population level in demanding climates, but not in temperate, less demanding climates, even when controlling for known correlates of personality including wealth and parasite stress.

Original languageEnglish
JournalScientific Reports
Pages (from-to)1733
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2018

    Research areas

  • Journal Article

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