Andrea Hildebrandt, Astrid Kiy, Martin Reuter, Werner Sommer and Oliver Wilhelm (2016)
Face cognition, including face identity and facial expression processing, is a crucial component of socio-emotional abilities, characterizing humans as highest developed social beings. However, for these trait domains molecular genetic studies investigating gene-behavior associations based on well-founded phenotype definitions are still rare. We examined the relationship between 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 polymorphisms – related to serotonin-reuptake – and the ability to perceive and recognize faces and emotional expressions in human faces. For this aim we conducted structural equation modeling on data from 230 young adults, obtained by using a comprehensive, multivariate task battery with maximal effort tasks. By additionally modeling fluid intelligence and immediate and delayed memory factors, we aimed to address the discriminant relationships of the 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 polymorphisms with socio-emotional abilities. We found a robust association between the 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 polymorphism and facial emotion perception. Carriers of two long (L) alleles outperformed carriers of one or two S alleles. Weaker associations were present for face identity perception and memory for emotional facial expressions. There was no association between the 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 polymorphism and non-social abilities, demonstrating discriminant validity of the relationships. We discuss the implications and possible neural mechanisms underlying these novel findings.