Looking on the bright side: biased attention and the human serotonin transporter gene

Elaine Fox, Anna Ridgewell, Chris Ashwin

Abstract

Humans differ in terms of biased attention for emotional stimuli and these biases can confer differential resilience and vulnerability to emotional disorders. Selective processing of positive emotional information, for example, is associated with enhanced sociability and well-being while a bias for negative material is associated with neuroticism and anxiety. A tendency to selectively avoid negative material might also be associated with mental health and well-being. The neurobiological mechanisms underlying these cognitive phenotypes are currently unknown. Here we show for the first time that allelic variation in the promotor region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) is associated with differential biases for positive and negative affective pictures. Individuals homozygous for the long allele (LL) showed a marked bias to selectively process positive affective material alongside selective avoidance of negative affective material. This potentially protective pattern was absent among individuals carrying the short allele (S or SL). Thus, allelic variation on a common genetic polymorphism was associated with the tendency to selectively process positive or negative information. The current study is important in demonstrating a genotype-related alteration in a well-established processing bias, which is a known risk factor in determining both resilience and vulnerability to emotional disorders.

Keywords:

Footnotes

    • Received December 3, 2008.
    • Accepted January 14, 2009.
  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text