Genetic variation in serotonin function impacts on altruistic punishment in the ultimatum game: A longitudinal approach

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Growing evidence demonstrates that the serotonin system influences punishment behavior in social decision-making and that individual differences in the propensity to punish are, at least in part, due to genetic variation. However, the specific genes and their mechanisms by which they influence punishment behavior are not yet fully characterized. Here, we examined whether serotonin system-related gene variation impacts on altruistic punishment in the ultimatum game by using a longitudinal approach with three time points, covering a time frame up to four months in young adults (N=106). Specifically, we investigated additive effects of 5-HTTLPR and TPH2 G-703T genotypes by using a composite score. This composite score was significantly associated with altruistic punishment, with individuals carrying both the S-allele and the G-allele demonstrating less punishment behavior. The results suggest that serotonin system-related gene variation contributes to individual differences in altruistic punishment. Furthermore, comparably high test-retest correlations suggest that punishment behavior in the ultimatum game represents a relatively stable, trait-like behavior.

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