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Exploring the Genetic Etiology of Trust in Adolescents: Combined Twin and DNA Analyses

  • Robyn E. Wootton (a1) (a2), Oliver S. P. Davis (a2), Abigail L. Mottershaw (a1) (a2), R. Adele H. Wang (a1) (a2) and Claire M. A. Haworth (a1) (a2)...

Behavioral traits generally show moderate to strong genetic influence, with heritability estimates of around 50%. Some recent research has suggested that trust may be an exception because it is more strongly influenced by social interactions. In a sample of over 7,000 adolescent twins from the United Kingdom's Twins Early Development Study, we found broad sense heritability estimates of 57% for generalized trust and 51% for trust in friends. Genomic-relatedness-matrix restricted maximum likelihood (GREML) estimates in the same sample indicate that 21% of the narrow sense genetic variance can be explained by common single nucleotide polymorphisms for generalized trust and 43% for trust in friends. As expected, this implies a large amount of unexplained heritability, although power is low for estimating DNA-based heritability. The missing heritability may be accounted for by interactions between DNA and the social environment during development or via gene–environment correlations with rare variants. How these genes and environments correlate seem especially important for the development of trust.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
address for correspondence: Robyn E. Wootton, University of Bristol 12a, Priory Road Bristol, BS8 1TU United Kingdom. E-mail:
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