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Front. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00945

Feasibility of linking molecular genetic markers to real-world social network size tracked on smartphones

  • 1Abteilung für Molekulare Psychologie, Institut für Psychologie und Pädagogik, Fakultät für Ingenieurwissenschaften, Informatik und Psychologie, Universität Ulm, Germany
  • 2Abteilung für Klinische Psychologie und Psychotherapie, Institut für Psychologie und Pädagogik, Fakultät Ingenieurwissenschaften, Informatik und Psychologie, Universität Ulm, Germany
  • 3Key Laboratory for NeuroInformation of Ministry of Education, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, China

The study of individual differences in human social behavior has a long tradition in (personality) psychology focusing on traits such as extraversion linked to vividness and assertiveness. The study of molecular genetic underpinnings of individual differences in social behavior produced many genetic association studies with only few genetic variants, robustly associated with individual differences in personality. One possible reason for non-replication of findings might be the different inventories used to assess human social traits. Moreover, self-report methods to assess personality and social behavior might be problematic due to their susceptibility to different biases such as social desirability or poor abilities in self-reflection. We stress the importance of including recorded behavior to understand the molecular genetic basis of individual differences in personality and linked social traits. We present preliminary data linking oxytocin genetics to individual differences in social network size derived from smartphones. Here, the genetic variation rs2268498, located in the adjacent area of the promoter of the gene coding for the oxytocin receptor (OXTR), was linked to the number of active contacts and incoming calls, tracked on the smartphone for 12 days (note that this result became a bit weaker when age was controlled for). Although the present empirical findings should only be seen as a proof of concept study, this work demonstrates the feasibility to combine molecular genetic variables with real world behavior. If this approach keeps its promises, the field of personality research might experience a boost in psychometric quality in the near future.

Keywords: Personality Neuroscience, molecular genetics, Oxytocin, oxytocin genetics, Extraversion, Smartphones, psychoinformatics, Digital phenotyping

Received: 21 Sep 2018; Accepted: 29 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Winfried Schlee, University of Regensburg, Germany

Reviewed by:

Brent Winslow, Design Interactive (United States), United States
Elouise Koops, University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands  

Copyright: © 2018 Sariyska, Rathner, Baumeister and Montag. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Rayna Y. Sariyska, Abteilung für Molekulare Psychologie, Institut für Psychologie und Pädagogik, Fakultät für Ingenieurwissenschaften, Informatik und Psychologie, Universität Ulm, Ulm, 89081 Ulm, Germany, rayna.sariyska@uni-ulm.de