Generally speaking, how trusting are you? For example, do you think most people are trustworthy or shouldn’t be trusted? Do you think people look to take advantage or look to be fair? We may not usually recognize it in our daily life, but trust is the foundation of economic activity. For example, goods and services may be provided in exchange for a promise of a future payment. Managers hire employees to accomplish tasks that are difficult to monitor or measure. There are individual differences in trust: Some people think that most people can be trusted, while others can’t bring themselves to trust people.
A recent study suggested that genetic variants may impact individual differences in trust. If a set of genetic markers is sufficiently predictive, these markers could be used in social science research. Recently, molecular genetic studies in economic and political behavior have drawn the attention of economists and political scientists because of their potential to predict behaviors. However, existing studies claiming to have established genetic associations with economic and political traits typically use samples of several hundred individuals. No such study has used a sample larger than 3,000 individuals. Researchers investigated underlying genetic effects on economic and political preferences to justify these results by using a larger sample size.
This study investigated the underlying genetic effects on economic and political preferences using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data obtained from 9,836 Swedish twins. As for economic preference, four fundamental preferences were assessed: risk aversion/taking, patience, trust, and fair-mindedness. Two questions included in the Screening Across the Lifespan Twin survey, Younger cohort (SALTY) were used to measure trust. The first question was a classic measure of trust used widely in political science and other social sciences: “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?” Then, participants rated on a 10-point Likert scale (1 = need to be very careful, 10 = most people can be trusted) to indicate how much they trust others. The second question was, “Do you think that most people would try to take advantage of you if they got the chance, or would they try to be fair?” and then participants rated on a 10-point Likert scale (0= would take advantage of me,10= would treat me fairly). By comparing the genetic information and the questionnaire result, several relationships between genetic variants and trust were identified. These included rs2299587 in PCM1 gene and rs574773 but only showed small effects.
For economic preferences, trust is significant, with the point estimate suggesting that the common SNPs explain over 20% of phenotypic variation. Results suggest that most published genetic association studies with economic and political traits are dramatically underpowered, implying a high false discovery rate. These results convey a cautionary message about whether, how, and when molecular genetic data can contribute to and transform research in social science.
Are you interested in learning more about your genetic tendency for trust? You can login to your Genomelink YOUR TRAITS to see this new genetic trait.