OXTR polymorphism predicts social relationships through its effects on social temperament

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Humans have a fundamental need for strong interpersonal bonds, yet individuals differ appreciably in their degree of social integration. That these differences are also substantially heritable has spurred interest in biological mechanisms underlying the quality and quantity of individuals’ social relationships. We propose that polymorphic variation in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) associates with complex social behaviors and social network composition through intermediate effects on negative affectivity and the psychological processing of socially relevant information. We tested a hypothesized social cascade from the molecular level (OXTR variation) to the social environment, through negative affectivity and inhibited sociality, in a sample of 1295 men and women of European American (N = 1081) and African American (N = 214) ancestry. Compared to European Americans having any T allele of rs1042778, individuals homozygous for the alternate G allele reported significantly lower levels of negative affectivity and inhibited sociality, which in turn predicted significantly higher levels of social support and a larger/more diverse social network. Moreover, the effect of rs1042778 variation on social support was fully accounted for by associated differences in negative affectivity and inhibited sociality. Results replicated in the African American sample. Findings suggest that OXTR variation modulates levels of social support via proximal impacts on individual temperament.

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