University of Oulu

Zwir, I., Del-Val, C., Hintsanen, M. et al. Evolution of genetic networks for human creativity. Mol Psychiatry 27, 354–376 (2022).

Evolution of genetic networks for human creativity

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Author: Zwir, I.1,2; Del-Val, C.2; Hintsanen, Mirka3;
Organizations: 1Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA
2Department of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, University of Granada, Andalusian Research Institute in Data Science and Computational Intelligence, Granada, Spain
3Unit of Psychology, Faculty of Education, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
4Anthropedia Foundation, St. Louis, MO, USA
5The Menninger Clinic, Baylor College of Medicine, and DeBakey VA Medical Center, Houston, TX, USA
6The Menninger Clinic, Houston, TX, USA
7Department of Clinical Chemistry, Fimlab Laboratories, and Finnish Cardiovascular Research Center - Tampere, Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
8Center for Population Health Research, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital; Research Center of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Turku; Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
9Department of Psychology and Logopedics, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
10Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas San Antonio, Long School of Medicine, The Glenn Briggs Institute of Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Disorders, San Antonio, TX, USA
11American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, USA
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 2.3 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-10-21


The genetic basis for the emergence of creativity in modern humans remains a mystery despite sequencing the genomes of chimpanzees and Neanderthals, our closest hominid relatives. Data-driven methods allowed us to uncover networks of genes distinguishing the three major systems of modern human personality and adaptability: emotional reactivity, self-control, and self-awareness. Now we have identified which of these genes are present in chimpanzees and Neanderthals. We replicated our findings in separate analyses of three high-coverage genomes of Neanderthals. We found that Neanderthals had nearly the same genes for emotional reactivity as chimpanzees, and they were intermediate between modern humans and chimpanzees in their numbers of genes for both self-control and self-awareness. 95% of the 267 genes we found only in modern humans were not protein-coding, including many long-non-coding RNAs in the self-awareness network. These genes may have arisen by positive selection for the characteristics of human well-being and behavioral modernity, including creativity, prosocial behavior, and healthy longevity. The genes that cluster in association with those found only in modern humans are over-expressed in brain regions involved in human self-awareness and creativity, including late-myelinating and phylogenetically recent regions of neocortex for autobiographical memory in frontal, parietal, and temporal regions, as well as related components of cortico-thalamo-ponto-cerebellar-cortical and cortico-striato-cortical loops. We conclude that modern humans have more than 200 unique non-protein-coding genes regulating co-expression of many more protein-coding genes in coordinated networks that underlie their capacities for self-awareness, creativity, prosocial behavior, and healthy longevity, which are not found in chimpanzees or Neanderthals.

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Series: Molecular psychiatry
ISSN: 1359-4184
ISSN-E: 1476-5578
ISSN-L: 1359-4184
Volume: 27
Issue: 1
Pages: 354 - 376
DOI: 10.1038/s41380-021-01097-y
Type of Publication: A2 Review article in a scientific journal
Field of Science: 3111 Biomedicine
515 Psychology
1184 Genetics, developmental biology, physiology
Funding: The Young Finns Study has been financially supported by the Academy of Finland: grants 286284, 322098, 134309 (Eye), 126925, 121584, 124282, 129378 (Salve), 117787 (Gendi), 41071 (Skidi), and 308676; 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; EU Horizon 2020 (grant 755320 for TAXINOMISIS and grant 848146 for To-Aition); and Tampere University Hospital Supporting Foundation and The Finnish Society of Clinical Chemistry (TL). The Anthropedia Foundation and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology RTI2018-098983-B-100 and DPI2015 -69585-R supported this collaboration. The authors thank geneticist Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, and statistical geneticist D. C. Rao, PhD for their review of an earlier draft.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 308676
Detailed Information: 308676 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2021. 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