We examined an understudied but potentially important source of romantic attraction—genetics—using a speed-dating paradigm. The mu opioid receptor (OPRM1) polymorphism A118G (rs1799971) and the serotonin receptor (HTR2A) polymorphism −1438 A/G (rs6311) were studied because they have been implicated in social affiliation. Guided by the social role theory of mate selection and prior genetic evidence, we examined these polymorphisms’ gender-specific associations with speed-dating success (i.e., date offers, mate desirability). A total of 262 single Asian Americans went on speed-dates with members of the opposite gender and completed interaction questionnaires about their partners. Consistent with our prediction, significant gender-by-genotype interactions were found for speed-dating success. Specifically, the minor variant of A118G (G-allele), which has been linked to submissiveness/social sensitivity, predicted greater speed-dating success for women, whereas the minor variant of −1438 A/G (G-allele), which has been linked to leadership/social dominance, predicted greater speed-dating success for men. For both polymorphisms, reverse “dampening” effects of minor variants were found for opposite-gender counterparts. These results support previous research on the importance of the opioid and serotonergic systems in social affiliation, indicating that their influence extends to dating success, with opposite, yet gender-norm consistent, effects for men and women.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Anderson, N. H., & Barrios, A. A. (1961). Primacy effects in personality impression formation. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 346–350.
Barr, C. S., Schwandt, M. L., Lindell, S. G., Higley, J. D., Maestripieri, D., Goldman, D., & Heilig, M. (2008). Variation at the mu-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) influences attachment behavior in infant primates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105, 5277–5281.
Benjamin, D. J., Cesarini, D., van der Loos, M. J., Dawes, C. T., Koellinger, P. D., Magnusson, P. K., & Visscher, P. M. (2012). The genetic architecture of economic and political preferences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, 8026–8031.
Betzig, L. (1993). Sex, succession, and stratification in the first six civilizations: how powerful men reproduced, passed power on to their sons, and used power to defend their wealth, women, and children. In L. Ellis (Ed.), Social stratification and socioeconomic inequality (pp. 37–74). Westport, CT: Praeger.
Bond, C., LaForge, K. S., Tian, M., Melia, D., Zhang, S., Borg, L., & Yu, L. (1998). Single-nucleotide polymorphism in the human mu opioid receptor gene alters β-endorphin binding and activity: possible implications for opiate addiction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 95, 9608–9613.
Bray, N. J., Buckland, P. R., Hall, H., Owen, M. J., & O’Donovan, M. C. (2004). The serotonin-2 A receptor gene locus does not contain common polymorphism affecting mRNA levels in adult brain. Molecular Psychiatry, 9, 109–114.
Bunzel, R., Blümcke, I., Cichon, S., Normann, S., Schramm, J., Propping, P., & Nöthen, M. M. (1998). Polymorphic imprinting of the serotonin-2 A (5-HT 2 A) receptor gene in human adult brain. Molecular Brain Research, 59, 90–92.
Burt, S. A. (2008). Genes and popularity: evidence of an evocative gene-environment correlation. Psychological Science, 19, 112–113.
Burt, S. A. (2009). A mechanistic explanation of popularity: genes, rule breaking, and evocative gene–environment correlations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 783–794.
Buss, D. M., Abbott, M., Angleitner, A., Asherian, A., Biaggio, A., Blanco-Villasenor, A., & Yang, K.-S. (1990). International preferences in selecting mates: A study of 37 cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 21, 5–47.
Cao, J., Liu, X., Han, S., Zhang, C. K., Liu, Z., & Li, D. (2014). Association of the HTR2A gene with alcohol and heroin abuse. Human Genetics, 133, 357–365.
Cashdan, E. (1995). Hormones, sex, and status in women. Hormones and Behavior, 29, 354–366.
Chabris, C. F., Hebert, B. M., Benjamin, D. J., Beauchamp, J., Cesarini, D., van der Loos, M., & Freese, J. (2012). Most reported genetic associations with general intelligence are probably false positives. Psychological Science, 23, 1314–1323.
Chabris, C. F., Lee, J. J., Cesarini, D., Benjamin, D. J., & Laibson, D. I. (2015). The Fourth Law of behavior genetics. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24, 304–312.
Darwin, C. (1871). The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. London: John Murray.
Depue, R. A., & Morrone-Strupinsky, J. V. (2005). A neurobehavioral model of affiliative bonding: implications for conceptualizing a human trait of affiliation. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28, 313–395.
Dijkstra, J. K., Lindenberg, S., Zijlstra, L., Bouma, E., & Veenstra, R. (2013). The secret ingredient for social success of young males: A functional polymorphism in the 5HT2A serotonin receptor gene. PloS One, 8, e54821.
Dorus, S., Vallender, E. J., Evans, P. D., Anderson, J. R., Gilbert, S. L., Mahowald, M., & Lahn, B. T. (2004). Accelerated evolution of nervous system genes in the origin of Homo sapiens. Cell, 119, 1027–1040.
Ding, Y. C., Chi, H. C., Grady, D. L., Morishima, A., Kidd, J. R., Kidd, K. K., & Zhang, Y. P. (2002). Evidence of positive selection acting at the human dopamine receptor D4 gene locus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99, 309–314.
Dougherty, T. W., Turban, D. B., & Callender, J. C. (1994). Confirming first impressions in the employment interview: A field study of interviewer behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 659–665.
Eagly, A. H., & Wood, W. (1999). The origins of sex differences in human behavior: Evolved dispositions versus social roles. American Psychologist, 54, 408–423.
Eastwick, P. W., & Finkel, E. J. (2008). Sex differences in mate preferences revisited: Do people know what they initially desire in a romantic partner? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 245–264.
Edwards, D. H., & Kravitz, E. A. (1997). Serotonin, social status and aggression. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 7, 812–819.
Finkel, E. J., & Eastwick, P. W. (2008). Speed-dating. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 193–197.
Fisman, R., Iyengar, S. S., Kamenica, E., & Simonson, I. (2008). Racial preferences in dating. The Review of Economic Studies, 75, 117–132.
Fu, W., & Akey, J. M. (2013). Selection and adaptation in the human genome. Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, 14, 467–489.
Geschwind, D. H., & Flint, J. (2015). Genetics and genomics of psychiatric disease. Science, 349, 1489–1494.
Gurung, R. A. R., & Vespia, K. (2007). Looking good, teaching well? Linking liking, looks, and learning. Teaching of Psychology, 34, 5–10.
Hastie, B. A., Riley III, J. L., Kaplan, L., Herrera, D. G., Campbell, C. M., Virtusio, K., et al. (2012). Ethnicity interacts with the OPRM1 gene in experimental pain sensitivity. Pain, 153, 1610–1619.
Hasvik, E., Schistad, E. I., Grøvle, L., Haugen, A. J., Røe, C., & Gjerstad, J. (2014). Subjective health complaints in patients with lumbar radicular pain and disc herniation are associated with a sex - OPRM1 A118G polymorphism interaction: a prospective 1-year observational study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 15, 161.
Hawks, J., Wang, E. T., Cochran, G. M., Harpending, H. C., & Moyzis, R. K. (2007). Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, 20753–20758.
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. R. (1994). Attachment as an organizational framework for research on close relationships. Psychological Inquiry, 5, 1–22.
Head, M. L., Holman, L., Lanfear, R., Kahn, A. T., & Jennions, M. D. (2015). The extent and consequences of p-hacking in science. PLoS Biology, 13, e1002106.
Higley, J. D., Mehlman, P. T., Poland, R. E., Taub, D. M., Vickers, J., Suomi, S. J., & Linnoila, M. (1996). CSF testosterone and 5-HIAA correlate with different types of aggressive behaviors. Biological Psychiatry, 40, 1067–1082.
Huang, C. J., Liu, H. F., Su, N. Y., Hsu, Y. W., Yang, C. H., Chen, C. C., & Tsai, P. S. (2008). Association between human opioid receptor genes polymorphisms and pressure pain sensitivity in females. Anaesthesia, 63, 1288–1295.
Ickes, W. (1993). Traditional gender roles: Do they make, and then break, our relationships? Journal of Social Issues, 49, 71–85.
Ioannidis, J. P. (2005). Why most published research findings are false. Chance, 18, 40–47.
Ioannidis, J. P., & Khoury, M. J. (2011). Improving validation practices in “omics” research. Science, 334, 1230–1232.
Iqbal, S. A., Wallach, J. D., Khoury, M. J., Schully, S. D., & Ioannidis, J. P. (2016). Reproducible research practices and transparency across the biomedical literature. PLoS Biology, 14, e1002333.
Jang, K. L., Livesley, W. J., & Vemon, P. A. (1996). Heritability of the Big Five personality dimensions and their facets: A twin study. Journal of Personality, 64, 577–592.
Kamboh, M. I., Demirci, F. Y., Wang, X., Minster, R. L., Carrasquillo, M. M., Pankratz, V. S., & Logue, M. W. (2012). Genome-wide association study of Alzheimer’s disease. Translational psychiatry, 2, e117.
Kato, M. V., Shimizu, T., Nagayoshi, M., Kaneko, A., Sasaki, M. S., & Ikawa, Y. (1996). Genomic imprinting of the human serotonin-receptor (HTR2) gene involved in development of retinoblastoma. American Journal of Human Genetics, 59, 1084–1090.
Kenrick, D. T. (2006). Evolution, traits, and the stages of human courtship: Qualifying the parental investment model. Journal of Personality, 58, 97–116.
Kenrick, D. T., Neuberg, S. L., Zierk, K. L., & Krones, J. M. (1994). Evolution and social cognition: contrast effects as a function of sex, dominance, and physical attractiveness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 210–217.
Kogan, A., Saslow, L. R., Impett, E. A., Oveis, C., Keltner, D., & Saturn, S. R. (2011). Thin-slicing study of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene and the evaluation and expression of the prosocial disposition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 19189–19192.
Lohmueller, K. E., Pearce, C. L., Pike, M., Lander, E. S., & Hirschhorn, J. N. (2003). Meta-analysis of genetic association studies supports a contribution of common variants to susceptibility to common disease. Nature Genetics, 33, 177–182.
Ludbrook, J., & Dudley, H. (1998). Why permutation tests are superior to t and F tests in biomedical research. American Statistician, 52, 127–132.
Luo, S., & Zhang, G. (2009). What leads to romantic attraction: Similarity, reciprocity, security, or beauty? evidence from a speed-dating study. Journal of Personality, 77, 933–964.
Machin, A. J., & Dunbar, R. I. M. (2011). The brain opioid theory of social attachment: a review of the evidence. Behaviour, 148, 985–1025.
Manolio, T. A., Collins, F. S., Cox, N. J., Goldstein, D. B., Hindorff, L. A., Hunter, D. J., & Visscher, P. M. (2009). Finding the missing heritability of complex diseases. Nature, 461, 747–753.
Mehrabian, A. (1994). Evidence bearing on the affiliative tendency (MAFF) and sensitivity to rejection (MSR) scales. Current Psychology, 13, 97–116.
Menon, S., Lea, R. A., Roy, B., Hanna, M., Wee, S., Haupt, L. M., & Griffiths, L. R. (2012). The human μ-opioid receptor gene polymorphism (A118G) is associated with head pain severity in a clinical cohort of female migraine with aura patients. Journal of Headache and Pain, 13, 513–519.
Myers, R. L., Airey, D. C., Manier, D. H., Shelton, R. C., & Sanders-Bush, E. (2007). Polymorphisms in the regulatory region of the human serotonin 5-HT 2 A receptor gene (HTR2A) influence gene expression. Biological Psychiatry, 61, 167–173.
Moskowitz, D. S., Pinard, G., Zuroff, D. C., Annable, L., & Young, S. N. (2001). The effect of tryptophan on social interaction in everyday life: A placebo-controlled study. Neuropsychopharmacology, 25, 277–289.
Neale, B. M., Medland, S. E., Ripke, S., Asherson, P., Franke, B., Lesch, K. P., & Daly, M. (2010). Meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 49, 884–897.
Nielsen, D. A., Hamon, S., Yuferov, V., Jackson, C., Ho, A., Ott, J., & Kreek, M. J. (2010). Ethnic diversity of DNA methylation in the OPRM1 promoter region in lymphocytes of heroin addicts. Human Genetics, 127, 639–649.
Nowak, M. A., Tarnita, C. E., & Wilson, E. O. (2010). The evolution of eusociality. Nature, 466, 1057–1062.
Open Science Collaboration (2015). Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. Science, 349, aac4716.
Parsch, J., & Ellegren, H. (2013). The evolutionary causes and consequences of sex-biased gene expression. Nature Reviews Genetics, 14, 83–87.
Peng, R. D. (2011). Reproducible research in computational science. Science, 334, 1226–1227.
Perilloux, C. (2014). (Mis)reading the signs: Men’s perception of women’s sexual interest. In V. A. Weekes-Shackelford & T. K. Shackelford (Eds.), Evolutionary perspectives on human sexual psychology and behavior (pp. 119–133). New York: Springer.
Polderman, T. J. C., Benyamin, B., de Leeuw, C. A., Sullivan, P. F., van Bochoven, A., Visscher, P. M., & Posthuma, D. (2015). Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on fifty years of twin studies. Nature Genetics, 47, 702–709.
Polesskaya, O. O., Aston, C., & Sokolov, B. P. (2006). Allele C-specific methylation of the 5-HT2A receptor gene: evidence for correlation with its expression and expression of DNA methylase DNMT1. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 83, 362–373.
Purcell, S., Neale, B., Todd-Brown, K., Thomas, L., Ferreira, M. A. R., Bender, D., & Sham, P. C. (2007). PLINK: A tool set for whole-genome association and population-based linkage analyses. The American Journal of Human Genetics, 81, 559–575.
Puts, D. A. (2010). Beauty and the beast: mechanisms of sexual selection in humans. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 157–175.
Rudman, L. A., & Glick, P. (2001). Prescriptive gender stereotypes and backlash toward agentic women. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 743–762.
Rusbult, C. E. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the investment model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 16, 172–186.
Saccone, S. F., Bierut, L. J., Chesler, E. J., Kalivas, P. W., Lerman, C., Saccone, N. L., & Sherry, S. T. (2009). Supplementing high-density SNP microarrays for additional coverage of disease-related genes: addiction as a paradigm. PloS One, 4, e5225.
Sadalla, E. K., Kenrick, D. T., & Vershure, B. (1987). Dominance and heterosexual attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 730–738.
Santer, B. D., Wigley, T. M. L., & Taylor, K. E. (2011). The reproducibility of observational estimates of surface and atmospheric temperature change. Science, 334, 1232–1233.
Schweiger, D., Stemmler, G., Burgdorf, C., & Wacker, J. (2014). Opioid receptor blockade and warmth-liking: effects on interpersonal trust and frontal asymmetry. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9, 1608–1615.
Sia, A. T., Lim, Y., Lim, E. C., Goh, R. W., Law, H. Y., Landau, R., & Tan, E. C. (2009). A118G single nucleotide polymorphism of human μ-opioid receptor gene influences pain perception and patient-controlled intravenous morphine consumption after intrathecal morphine for postcesarean analgesia. Obstetric Anesthesia Digest, 29, 26–27.
Slavich, G. M., Tartter, M. A., Brennan, P. A., & Hammen, C. (2014). Endogenous opioid system influences depressive reactions to socially painful targeted rejection life events. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 49, 141–149.
Sprecher, S., & Regan, P. C. (2002). Liking some things (in some people) more than others: partner preferences in romantic relationships and friendships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19, 463–481.
The International Consortium for Blood Pressure Genome-Wide Association Studies (2011). Genetic variants in novel pathways influence blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk. Nature, 478, 103–109.
Townsend, J. M., & Levy, G. D. (1990). Effects of potential partners’ physical attractiveness and socioeconomic status on sexuality and partner selection. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 19, 149–164.
Tracy, J. L., & Beall, A. T. (2011). Happy guys finish last: the impact of emotion expressions on sexual attraction. Emotion, 11, 1379–1387.
Troisi, A., Frazzetto, G., Carola, V., Di Lorenzo, G., Coviello, M., D’Amato, F. R., & Gross, C. (2011). Social hedonic capacity is associated with the A118G polymorphism of the mu-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) in adult healthy volunteers and psychiatric patients. Social Neuroscience, 6, 88–97.
Tse, W. S., & Bond, A. J. (2002). Serotonergic intervention affects both social dominance and affiliative behaviour. Psychopharmacology, 161, 324–330.
Viikki, M., Huuhka, K., Leinonen, E., Illi, A., Setälä-Soikkeli, E., Huuhka, M., & Kampman, O. (2011). Interaction between two HTR2A polymorphisms and gender is associated with treatment response in MDD. Neuroscience Letters, 501, 20–24.
Wang, E., Ding, Y. C., Flodman, P., Kidd, J. R., Kidd, K. K., Grady, D. L., & Moyzis, R. K. (2004). The genetic architecture of selection at the human dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) gene locus. American Journal of Human Genetics, 74, 931–944.
Wang, E. T., Kodama, G., Baldi, P., & Moyzis, R. K. (2006). Global landscape of recent inferred Darwinian selection for Homo sapiens. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103, 135–140.
Way, B. M., & Lieberman, M. D. (2010). Is there a genetic contribution to cultural differences? Collectivism, individualism and genetic markers of social sensitivity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5, 203–211.
Way, B. M., Taylor, S. E., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2009). Variation in the μ-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1) is associated with dispositional and neural sensitivity to social rejection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106, 15079–15084.
Weisstaub, N. V., Zhou, M., Lira, A., Lambe, E., González-Maeso, J., Hornung, J. P., & Ansorge, M. S. (2006). Cortical 5-HT2A receptor signaling modulates anxiety-like behaviors in mice. Science, 313, 536–540.
Zhang, Y., Wang, D., Johnson, A. D., Papp, A. C., & Sadée, W. (2005). Allelic expression imbalance of human mu opioid receptor (OPRM1) caused by variant A118G. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 280, 32618–32624.
Zuk, O., Hechter, E., Sunyaev, S. R., & Lander, E. S. (2012). The mystery of missing heritability: Genetic interactions create phantom heritability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, 1193–1198.
We thank Society of Research on Adolescence and Psi Chi National Honor Society for funding this research and our research assistants for their hard work on this project: Jonathan B. Lim, Stephanie Nguyen, Blaise Lallathin, Paul Phandl, Melody Lim, Ronica Senores, Justin Huft, Gabriel Corpus, Jennifer Lai, and Marissa Tom.
Electronic Supplementary Material
About this article
Cite this article
Wu, K., Chen, C., Moyzis, R.K. et al. Gender Interacts with Opioid Receptor Polymorphism A118G and Serotonin Receptor Polymorphism −1438 A/G on Speed-Dating Success. Hum Nat 27, 244–260 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-016-9257-8
- Human mate selection
- Behavioral genetics