University of Oulu

Zwir, I., Arnedo, J., Del-Val, C. et al. Uncovering the complex genetics of human character. Mol Psychiatry 25, 2295–2312 (2020).

Uncovering the complex genetics of human character

Saved in:
Author: Zwir, Igor1,2; Arnedo, Javier2; Del-Val, Coral2;
Organizations: 1Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA
2Department of Computer Science, University of Granada, Granada, Spain
3Department of Psychology and Logopedics, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
4Department of Psychiatry, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Halle, Germany
5Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Institute of Health and Environment, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea
6University of Oulu, Unit of Psychology, Faculty of Education, Oulu, Finland
7Anthropedia Foundation, St. Louis, MO, USA
8Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
9Blekinge Centre of Competence, Blekinge County Council, Karlskrona, Sweden
10Department of Clinical Chemistry, Fimlab Laboratories, Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences, Finnish Cardiovascular Research Center-Tampere, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland
11Ludwig-Maximilian University, University Clinic, Munich, Germany
12Department of Clinical Physiology, Tampere University Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland
13Departments of Psychiatry and Neurosurgery, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA
14Institute of Neurosciences, Department of Psychiatry and Neurology, School of Medicine, University of Texas Rio-Grande Valley, Harlingen, TX, USA
15Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, Turku University Hospital, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
16Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, USA
17Rocky Mountain Mental Illness, Research, Education, Clinical Center for Veteran Suicide Prevention, Denver, CO, USA
18Department of Genetics, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and School of Medicine, School of Arts and Sciences, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, USA
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 2.6 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-10-06


Human personality is 30–60% heritable according to twin and adoption studies. Hundreds of genetic variants are expected to influence its complex development, but few have been identified. We used a machine learning method for genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to uncover complex genotypic–phenotypic networks and environmental interactions. The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) measured the self-regulatory components of personality critical for health (i.e., the character traits of self-directedness, cooperativeness, and self-transcendence). In a discovery sample of 2149 healthy Finns, we identified sets of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that cluster within particular individuals (i.e., SNP sets) regardless of phenotype. Second, we identified five clusters of people with distinct profiles of character traits regardless of genotype. Third, we found 42 SNP sets that identified 727 gene loci and were significantly associated with one or more of the character profiles. Each character profile was related to different SNP sets with distinct molecular processes and neuronal functions. Environmental influences measured in childhood and adulthood had small but significant effects. We confirmed the replicability of 95% of the 42 SNP sets in healthy Korean and German samples, as well as their associations with character. The identified SNPs explained nearly all the heritability expected for character in each sample (50 to 58%). We conclude that self-regulatory personality traits are strongly influenced by organized interactions among more than 700 genes despite variable cultures and environments. These gene sets modulate specific molecular processes in brain for intentional goal-setting, self-reflection, empathy, and episodic learning and memory.

see all

Series: Molecular psychiatry
ISSN: 1359-4184
ISSN-E: 1476-5578
ISSN-L: 1359-4184
Volume: 25
Pages: 2295 - 2312
DOI: 10.1038/s41380-018-0263-6
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1184 Genetics, developmental biology, physiology
3111 Biomedicine
Funding: The Young Finns Study has been financially supported by the Academy of Finland: grants 286284, 134309 (Eye), 126925, 121584, 124282, 129378 (Salve), 117787 (Gendi), and 41071 (Skidi); the Social Insurance Institution of Finland; Competitive State Research Financing of the Expert Responsibility area of Kuopio, Tampere, and Turku University Hospitals (grant X51001); Juho Vainio Foundation; Paavo Nurmi Foundation; Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research; Finnish Cultural Foundation; Tampere Tuberculosis Foundation; Emil Aaltonen Foundation; Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation; Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation; Diabetes Research Foundation of Finnish Diabetes Association; and EU Horizon 2020 (grant 755320 for TAXINOMISIS). The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention supported the study of healthy Germans. The National Healthy Twin Family Register of Korea supported the study of healthy Koreans. The Anthropedia Foundation and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology TIN2012-38805 and DPI2015-69585-R supported this collaboration. We thank biostatisticians Charles Gu and Miguel Angel Rubio Escudero for advice on statistical analysis, and five anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the paper.
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2018. Open Access. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit