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Religion priming and an oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) polymorphism interact to affect self-control in a social context

  • Joni Y. Sasaki (a1), Taraneh Mojaverian (a2) and Heejung S. Kim (a2)

Using a genetic moderation approach, this study examines how an experimental prime of religion impacts self-control in a social context, and whether this effect differs depending on the genotype of an oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) polymorphism (rs53576). People with different genotypes of OXTR seem to have different genetic orientations toward sociality, which may have consequences for the way they respond to religious cues in the environment. In order to determine whether the influence of religion priming on self-control is socially motivated, we examine whether this effect is stronger for people who have OXTR genotypes that should be linked to greater rather than less social sensitivity (i.e., GG vs. AA/AG genotypes). The results showed that experimentally priming religion increased self-control behaviors for people with GG genotypes more so than people with AA/AG genotypes. Furthermore, this Gene × Religion interaction emerged in a social context, when people were interacting face to face with another person. This research integrates genetic moderation and social psychological approaches to address a novel question about religion's influence on self-control behavior, which has implications for coping with distress and psychopathology. These findings also highlight the importance of the social context for understanding genetic moderation of psychological effects.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Joni Sasaki, Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3, Canada; E-mail:
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