Gene × environment interaction on intergroup bias: the role of 5-HTTLPR and perceived outgroup threat.Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2014; 9(9):1268-75SC
Perceived threat from outgroups is a consistent social-environmental antecedent of intergroup bias (i.e. prejudice, ingroup favoritism). The serotonin transporter gene polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) has been associated with individual variations in sensitivity to context, particularly stressful and threatening situations. Here, we examined how 5-HTTLPR and environmental factors signaling potential outgroup threat dynamically interact to shape intergroup bias. Across two studies, we provide novel evidence for a gene-environment interaction on the acquisition of intergroup bias and prejudice. Greater exposure to signals of outgroup threat, such as negative prior contact with outgroups and perceived danger from the social environment, were more predictive of intergroup bias among participants possessing at least one short allele (vs two long alleles) of 5-HTTLPR. Furthermore, this gene x environment interaction was observed for biases directed at diverse ethnic and arbitrarily-defined outgroups across measures reflecting intergroup biases in evaluation and discriminatory behavior. These findings reveal a candidate genetic mechanism for the acquisition of intergroup bias, and suggest that intergroup bias is dually inherited and transmitted through the interplay of social (i.e. contextual cues of outgroup threat) and biological mechanisms (i.e. genetic sensitivity toward threatening contexts) that regulate perceived intergroup threats.