How to consistently link extraversion and intelligence to the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene: on defining and measuring psychological phenotypes in neurogenetic research

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 Feb;102(2):427-44. doi: 10.1037/a0026544. Epub 2011 Dec 19.


The evidence for associations between genetic polymorphisms and complex behavioral/psychological phenotypes (traits) has thus far been weak and inconsistent. Using the well-studied Val158Met polymorphism of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene as an example, we demonstrate that using theoretical models to guide phenotype definition and measuring the phenotypes of interest with a high degree of specificity reveals strong gene-behavior associations that are consistent with prior work and that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Only after statistically controlling for irrelevant portions of phenotype variance did we observe strong (Cohen's d = 0.33-0.70) and significant associations between COMT Val158Met and both cognitive and affective traits in a healthy male sample (N = 201) in Study 1: Carriers of the Met allele scored higher in fluid intelligence (reasoning) but lower in both crystallized intelligence (general knowledge) and the agency facet of extraversion. In Study 2, we conceptually replicated the association of COMT Val158Met with the agency facet of extraversion after partialing irrelevant phenotype variance in a female sample (N = 565). Finally, through reanalysis of a large published data set we showed that Met allele carriers also scored higher in indicators of fluid intelligence after partialing verbal fluency. Because the Met allele codes for a less efficient variant of the enzyme COMT, resulting in higher levels of extrasynaptic prefrontal dopamine, these observations provide further support for a role for dopamine in both intelligence and extraversion. More importantly, the present findings have important implications for the definition of psychological phenotypes in neurogenetic research.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase / genetics*
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase / physiology
  • Extraversion, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Genetic Association Studies / methods*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / genetics*
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Models, Neurological
  • Personality Assessment
  • Personality Inventory
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Wechsler Scales
  • Young Adult


  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase