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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Sep 2;111(35):12705-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1407057111. Epub 2014 Aug 25.

A critical reanalysis of the relationship between genomics and well-being.

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New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, London NW6 1DF, United Kingdom;
Department of Psychology, University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, MI 48221-3038;
Systemix Institute, Redmond, WA 98053-5864;
Psychology and Interdisciplinary Inquiry Area, Saybrook University, San Francisco, CA 94111-1945; Psychology Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-2250;
Department of Health Sciences, University Medical Center, University of Groningen, 9700 AD Groningen, The Netherlands; and Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ 08854-8062.


Fredrickson et al. [Fredrickson BL, et al. (2013) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110(33):13684-13689] claimed to have observed significant differences in gene expression related to hedonic and eudaimonic dimensions of well-being. Having closely examined both their claims and their data, we draw substantially different conclusions. After identifying some important conceptual and methodological flaws in their argument, we report the results of a series of reanalyses of their dataset. We first applied a variety of exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis techniques to their self-reported well-being data. A number of plausible factor solutions emerged, but none of these corresponded to Fredrickson et al.'s claimed hedonic and eudaimonic dimensions. We next examined the regression analyses that purportedly yielded distinct differential profiles of gene expression associated with the two well-being dimensions. Using the best-fitting two-factor solution that we identified, we obtained effects almost twice as large as those found by Fredrickson et al. using their questionable hedonic and eudaimonic factors. Next, we conducted regression analyses for all possible two-factor solutions of the psychometric data; we found that 69.2% of these gave statistically significant results for both factors, whereas only 0.25% would be expected to do so if the regression process was really able to identify independent differential gene expression effects. Finally, we replaced Fredrickson et al.'s psychometric data with random numbers and continued to find very large numbers of apparently statistically significant effects. We conclude that Fredrickson et al.'s widely publicized claims about the effects of different dimensions of well-being on health-related gene expression are merely artifacts of dubious analyses and erroneous methodology.


epigenetics; genomic perspectives; leukocytes; transcriptional response

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