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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2009 Apr;96(4):783-94. doi: 10.1037/a0013702.

A mechanistic explanation of popularity: genes, rule breaking, and evocative gene-environment correlations.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Pers Soc Psychol. 2009 Jul;97(1):57.


Previous work has suggested that the serotonergic system plays a key role in "popularity" or likeability. A polymorphism within the 5HT-sub(2A) serotonin receptor gene (-G1438A) has also been associated with popularity, suggesting that genes may predispose individuals to particular social experiences. However, because genes cannot code directly for others' reactions, any legitimate association should be mediated via the individual's behavior (i.e., genes-->behaviors-->social consequences), a phenomenon referred to as an evocative gene-environment correlation (rGE). The current study aimed to identify one such mediating behavior. The author focused on rule breaking given its prior links to both the serotonergic system and to increased popularity during adolescence. Two samples of previously unacquainted late-adolescent boys completed a peer-based interaction paradigm designed to assess their popularity. Analyses revealed that rule breaking partially mediated the genetic effect on popularity, thereby furthering our understanding of the biological mechanisms that underlie popularity. Moreover, the present results represent the first meaningfully explicated evidence that genes predispose individuals not only to particular behaviors but also to the social consequences of those behaviors.

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