Kim et al now show that an oxytocin receptor, depending on its specific genotype, is sensitive to social environment, specifically cultural norms regarding emotional social support seeking. Seeking emotional support in times of distress is normative in American culture but not in Korean culture. American participants with a GG/AG genotypes reported seeking more emotional social support than those with a AA genotype, but Korean participants did not differ by genotype. The abstract:
Research has demonstrated that certain genotypes are expressed in different forms, depending on input from the social environment. To examine sensitivity to cultural norms regarding emotional support seeking as a type of social environment, we explored the behavioral expression of oxytocin receptor polymorphism (OXTR) rs53576, a gene previously related to socio-emotional sensitivity. Seeking emotional support in times of distress is normative in American culture but not in Korean culture. Consequently, we predicted a three-way interaction of culture, distress, and OXTR genotype on emotional support seeking. Korean and American participants (n = 274) completed assessments of psychological distress and emotional support seeking and were genotyped for OXTR. We found the predicted three-way interaction: among distressed American participants, those with the GG/AG genotypes reported seeking more emotional social support, compared with those with the AA genotype, whereas Korean participants did not differ significantly by genotype; under conditions of low distress, OXTR groups did not differ significantly in either cultural group. These findings suggest that OXTR rs53576 is sensitive to input from the social environment, specifically cultural norms regarding emotional social support seeking. These findings also indicate that psychological distress and culture are important moderators that shape behavioral outcomes associated with OXTR genotypes.