The dopamine D4 receptor gene shows a gender-sensitive association with cognitive empathy: evidence from two independent samples

Emotion. 2014 Aug;14(4):712-21. doi: 10.1037/a0036555. Epub 2014 May 26.


Increasing evidence points to a role of dopaminergic pathways in modulating social behavior. Specifically, a polymorphic region in the third exon of the Dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) has been associated with a host of social behaviors, often in an environment-sensitive manner. Empathy is thought to be an important motivator of prosocial behaviors and can be seen as multifaceted, combining cognitive empathy (CE) and emotional empathy (EE). In the current study, we analyzed the association between DRD4 and the 2 aspects of empathy, as well as the effect of gender on this association. In Study 1, a large sample of adult participants (N = 477) was inventoried for general empathy, CE, and EE and genotyped for the DRD4 exon 3 polymorphism. Women scored higher than men on all empathy measures and no main effect of genotype was observed. It is important that a significant interaction between genotype and gender emerged specifically for CE, with women carriers of the 7R-allele scoring higher than noncarriers, whereas in men 7R-carriers scored lower than -7R. Notably, these findings were replicated in an independently recruited sample (N = 121) in Study 2. The current report shows that the DRD4 exon3 polymorphism is associated with CE and the direction of the association is gender-sensitive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Empathy / genetics*
  • Exons / genetics
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4 / genetics*
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, Dopamine D4