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Genetically-Driven Enhancement of Dopaminergic Transmission Affects Moral Acceptability in Females but Not in Males: A Pilot Study

Pellegrini, Silvia and Palumbo, Sara and Iofrida, Caterina and Melissari, Erika and Rota, Giuseppina and Mariotti, Veronica and Anastasio, Teresa and Manfrinati, Andrea and Rumiati, Rino and Lotto, Lorella and Sarlo, Michela and Pietrini, Pietro Genetically-Driven Enhancement of Dopaminergic Transmission Affects Moral Acceptability in Females but Not in Males: A Pilot Study. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 11 (156). ISSN 1662-5153 (2017)

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Moral behavior has been a key topic of debate for philosophy and psychology for a long time. In recent years, thanks to the development of novel methodologies in cognitive sciences, the question of how we make moral choices has expanded to the study of neurobiological correlates that subtend the mental processes involved in moral behavior. For instance, in vivo brain imaging studies have shown that distinct patterns of brain neural activity, associated with emotional response and cognitive processes, are involved in moral judgment. Moreover, while it is well-known that responses to the same moral dilemmas differ across individuals, to what extent this variability may be rooted in genetics still remains to be understood. As dopamine is a key modulator of neural processes underlying executive functions, we questioned whether genetic polymorphisms associated with decision-making and dopaminergic neurotransmission modulation would contribute to the observed variability in moral judgment. To this aim, we genotyped five genetic variants of the dopaminergic pathway [rs1800955 in the dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) gene, DRD4 48 bp variable number of tandem repeat (VNTR), solute carrier family 6 member 3 (SLC6A3) 40 bp VNTR, rs4680 in the catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT) gene, and rs1800497 in the ankyrin repeat and kinase domain containing 1 (ANKK1) gene] in 200 subjects, who were requested to answer 56 moral dilemmas. As these variants are all located in genes belonging to the dopaminergic pathway, they were combined in multilocus genetic profiles for the association analysis. While no individual variant showed any significant effects on moral dilemma responses, the multilocus genetic profile analysis revealed a significant gender-specific influence on human moral acceptability. Specifically, those genotype combinations that improve dopaminergic signaling selectively increased moral acceptability in females, by making their responses to moral dilemmas more similar to those provided by males. As females usually give more emotionally-based answers and engage the “emotional brain” more than males, our results, though preliminary and therefore in need of replication in independent samples, suggest that this increase in dopamine availability enhances the cognitive and reduces the emotional components of moral decision-making in females, thus favoring a more rationally-driven decision process.

Item Type: Article
Identification Number: 10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00156
Additional Information: Supplementary material at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00156/full#supplementary-material
Funders: Grant from Fondazione Gio.I.A, Pisa (Italy), PRIN 2010-2011 (Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research), Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca (Grant 2016-2017)
Uncontrolled Keywords: dopamine, genetic variant, moral behavior, decision-making, moral dilemma
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Research Area: Computer Science and Applications
Depositing User: Caterina Tangheroni
Date Deposited: 08 Sep 2017 10:47
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2017 10:47
URI: http://eprints.imtlucca.it/id/eprint/3782

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