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Biol Psychol. 2010 Mar;83(3):269-71. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2009.08.009. Epub 2009 Aug 31.

Variations in the serotonin-transporter gene are associated with attention bias patterns to positive and negative emotion faces.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, United States.


Both attention biases to threat and a serotonin-transporter gene polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) have been linked to heightened neural activation to threat and the emergence of anxiety. The short allele of 5-HTTLPR may act via its effect on neurotransmitter availability, while attention biases shape broad patterns of cognitive processing. We examined individual differences in attention bias to emotion faces as a function of 5-HTTLPR genotype. Adolescents (N=117) were classified for presumed SLC6A4 expression based on 5-HTTLPR-low (SS, SL(G), or L(G)L(G)), intermediate (SL(A) or L(A)L(G)), or high (L(A)L(A)). Participants completed the dot-probe task, measuring attention biases toward or away from angry and happy faces. Biases for angry faces increased with the genotype-predicted neurotransmission levels (low>intermediate>high). The reverse pattern was evident for happy faces. The data indicate a linear relation between 5-HTTLPR allelic status and attention biases to emotion, demonstrating a genetic mechanism for biased attention using ecologically valid stimuli that target socioemotional adaptation.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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