Apr 18, 2016 - Research

The role of genetics in well-being


Dan Benjamin, an Associate Professor of Economics at USC and one of the principal investigators with the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium.

In one of the largest-ever genome wide association studies for behavioral traits, researchers have found three genetic variants associated with a person’s sense of well-being.

The study published this week in the journal Nature Genetics also looked at genetic associations with depression and what is called “neuroticism” – personality traits that are characterized by feelings of anxiety, fear and negativity. The study found two variants associated with depression and 11 with neuroticism. Most of the variants associated with depression and neuroticism were also associated with well-being, according to the study.

“We found that most of the genetic variants associated with depressive symptoms and or neuroticism also were linked to subjective well-being, and vice-versa,” said Daniel Benjamin, corresponding author and an associate professor at USC’s Center for Economic and Social Research at USC. “When examined individually, each genetic variant explains very little about these traits. But when taken together, these findings imply that the genetic influences on depression, neuroticism and subjective well-being result from the cumulative effects of at least thousands, if not millions, of different variants.”

The study was spearheaded by the  Social Science Genetic Association Consortium, an international group of more than 190 scientists that was co-founded by Benjamin, along with David Cesarini, at New York University and Philipp Koellinger, at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. The consortium investigates the influence of genetics on human behavior, well-being and social science-related outcomes through large-scale studies of human genomes.

In this work, the researchers also found a strong link between the variants associated with these traits and those associated with anxiety disorders. The variants also had some moderate overlap with variants associated with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Benjamin and the other study authors noted that the findings were driven in part by the size of the their genome wide association study, which included analysis of data from 298,420 individuals who were part of 59 different study cohorts that looked at subjective well-being.

The researchers also included data on depressive symptoms and neuroticism from other study cohorts that together included data from more than 300,000 individuals.

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