Are personality traits inherited?

Heritability of cooperative behavior in the trust game

David Cesarini*, Christopher T. Dawes, James H. Fowler,, Magnus Johannesson, Paul Lichtenstein, and Björn Wallace

*Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02142; Political Science Department, University of California at San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive 0521, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521; Department of Economics, Stockholm School of Economics, Box 6501, SE-113 83 Stockholm, Sweden; and Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Box 281, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

Edited by Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, and approved January 15, 2008 (received for review October 23, 2007)


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.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for social scientists to believe that. It always mystifies me that people seem perfectly happy to admit character traits are inherited in dogs, but not in humans.

I wonder if an increase in co-operative behaviour could be linked to lower criminality?


One response to “Are personality traits inherited?

  1. We recently wrote about an similar issue at Brain Blogger. Recent studies using twins found that happiness and depression are inheritable and there are genetic links to certain personality traits. Those who are extroverted, open, agreeable and conscientious are more likely to be happy. Those with opposing traits — introversion, disagreeability and neuroticism — are more likely to be depressed.

    I would like to read your commentary on our article. Thank you.


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