The genetic origins of the relationship between psychological traits and social trust

Twin Res Hum Genet. 2012 Feb;15(1):21-33. doi: 10.1375/twin.15.1.21.


Recent studies have shown that trusting attitudes and behavior are biologically influenced. Focusing on the classic trust game, it has been demonstrated that oxytocin increases trust and that humans are endowed with genetic variation that influences their behavior in the game. Moreover, several studies have shown that a large share of the variation in survey responses to trust items is accounted for by an additive genetic component. Against this backdrop, this article makes two important contributions. First, utilizing a unique sample of more than 2,000 complete Swedish twin pairs, we provide further evidence of the heritability of social trust. Our estimates of the additive genetic component in social trust were consistent across the sexes -- .33 for males and .39 for females -- and are similar to the results reported in earlier studies. Secondly, we show that social trust is phenotypically related to three psychological traits -- extraversion, personal control, and intelligence - and that genetic factors account for most of these correlations. Jointly, these psychological factors share around 30% of the genetic influence on social trust both for males and females. Future studies should further explore the possible causal pathways between genes and trust using panel data on both psychological traits and social trust.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Genetics, Behavioral*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality*
  • Politics*
  • Social Environment
  • Sweden
  • Trust / psychology*