Evidence for a role of the oxytocin system, indexed by genetic variation in CD38, in the social bonding effects of expressed gratitude

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Dec;9(12):1855-61. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst182. Epub 2014 Jan 5.


Oxytocin is thought to play a central role in promoting close social bonds via influence on social interactions. The current investigation targeted interactions involving expressed gratitude between members of romantic relationships because recent evidence suggests gratitude and its expression provides behavioral and psychological 'glue' to bind individuals closer together. Specifically, we took a genetic approach to test the hypothesis that social interactions involving expressed gratitude would be associated with variation in a gene, CD38, which has been shown to affect oxytocin secretion. A polymorphism (rs6449182) that affects CD38 expression was significantly associated with global relationship satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness and positive emotions (particularly love) after lab-based interactions, observed behavioral expression of gratitude toward a romantic partner in the lab, and frequency of expressed gratitude in daily life. A separate polymorphism in CD38 (rs3796863) previously associated with plasma oxytocin levels and social engagement was also associated with perceived responsiveness in the benefactor after an expression of gratitude. The combined influence of the two polymorphisms was associated with a broad range of gratitude-related behaviors and feelings. The consistent pattern of findings suggests that the oxytocin system is associated with solidifying the glue that binds adults into meaningful and important relationships.

Keywords: CD38; close relationships; emotion expression; gratitude; oxytocin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • ADP-ribosyl Cyclase 1 / genetics*
  • ADP-ribosyl Cyclase 1 / metabolism
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Object Attachment*
  • Observation
  • Oxytocin / blood*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Regression Analysis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Oxytocin
  • ADP-ribosyl Cyclase 1