Genetics of Human Personality


Personality traits are stable character dispositions that are influenced by both genes and the environment. The most common genetic investigations have been of a five‐factor personality taxonomy that includes the traits of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Twin and family studies confirm that around half of the variance in these traits is due to genes, with evidence of additive and nonadditive genetic influences. The remaining variance is due to unique environmental experiences, that is, they are unshared by family members. Molecular genetic studies have not found any genes of large effect influencing human personality, but progress is being made in identifying numerous genes each with small individual effect. Increasing genetic insight allows the development of evolutionary theories of personality.

Key Concepts

  • A dominant personality theory includes five independent domains ‐ openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism ‐ each varying along a continuum from low to high.
  • Twin and family studies have found that around 40–50% of variation in the Big Five personality traits are influenced by genes.
  • Nonadditive genetic influences on personality are significant and are likely to be due to epistasis rather than genetic dominance.
  • The unique, or nonshared, environment of individuals (and not their shared environment, e.g. with family members) influences their personality.
  • Individual genes with large effect do not influence personality, rather gene effects explaining less than 0.5% of variance have been supported.
  • The heritability of personality as estimated by common genetic variants is much lower than family study estimates, indicating the potential importance of rare and structural genetic variants.

Keywords: five‐factor model; heritability; genome‐wide association; twin studies; SNP heritability

Figure 1. The correlation between different sources of latent genetic and environmental variance in monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs. A, additive genes; D, dominance genes; C, common environment; E, unique environment.


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Further Reading

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Wiebe, Annika W, and Luciano, Michelle(Nov 2017) Genetics of Human Personality. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027255]