Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Heritability of cooperative behavior

A study of the behaviors of monozygotic versis dizygotic twins (i.e. 'identical' vs. 'non-identical' twins) in a classical cooperation game yields evidence for genetic influences on yet another of our behaviors - how trusting we are:
Although laboratory experiments document cooperative behavior in humans, little is known about the extent to which individual differences in cooperativeness result from genetic and environmental variation. In this article, we report the results of two independently conceived and executed studies of monozygotic and dizygotic twins, one in Sweden and one in the United States. The results from these studies suggest that humans are endowed with genetic variation that influences the decision to invest, and to reciprocate investment, in the classic trust game. Based on these findings, we urge social scientists to take seriously the idea that differences in peer and parental socialization are not the only forces that influence variation in cooperative behavior.

Our results are complementary to work on the neurological and hormonal substrates of behavior in the trust game and other similar social dilemma games...Enhanced oxytocin levels have been documented in subjects who received a monetary transfer that reflected an intention of trust, and later work has demonstrated that exogenously administered oxytocin increases trust. Scholars have also documented associations between cortisol and trust. These hormonal studies, therefore, indicate that further study of polymorphisms of CYP11B1, OXTR, and other genes involved in the expression and regulation of these hormones may explain part of the genetic effect on cooperation. In fact, one research team has already identified a polymorphism in the AVPR1a gene that is associated with related behavior in the dictator game.

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