Nature vs. nurture in human sociality: multi-level genomic analyses of social conformity

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Social conformity is fundamental to human societies and has been studied for more than six decades, but our understanding of its mechanisms remains limited. Individual differences in conformity have been attributed to social and cultural environmental influences, but not to genes. Here we demonstrate a genetic contribution to conformity after analyzing 1,140 twins and single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-based studies of 2,130 young adults. A two-step genome-wide association study (GWAS) revealed replicable associations in 9 genomic loci, and a meta-analysis of three GWAS with a sample size of ~2,600 further confirmed one locus, corresponding to the NAV3 (Neuron Navigator 3) gene which encodes a protein important for axon outgrowth and guidance. Further multi-level (haplotype, gene, pathway) GWAS strongly associated genes including NAV3, PTPRD (protein tyrosine phosphatase receptor type D), ARL10 (ADP ribosylation factor-like GTPase 10), and CTNND2 (catenin delta 2), with conformity. Magnetic resonance imaging of 64 subjects shows correlation of activation or structural features of brain regions with the SNPs of these genes, supporting their functional significance. Our results suggest potential moderate genetic influence on conformity, implicate several specific genetic elements in conformity and will facilitate further research on cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying human conformity.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project 31421003); the Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics at Peking University; the Peking-Tsinghua Center for Life Sciences; the Applied Development Program from the Science and Technology Committee of Chongqing (Grant number cstc2014yykfB10003, cstc2015shms-ztzx10006); and the Program of Mass Creativities Workshops from the Science and Technology Committee of Chongqing. We are grateful to Dr. Chen Wu, Dr. Jurg Ott, and Dr. Houfeng Zheng for comments on the manuscript, and to Zhangyan Guan and Huizhen Yang for help with DNA preparation.

Author information


  1. Peking-Tsinghua Center for Life Sciences, PKU-IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics, Peking University, 100871, Beijing, China

    • Biqing Chen
    • , Zijian Zhu
    • , Yingying Wang
    • , Wan Fang
    •  & Yi Rao
  2. Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Jiangsu Province Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 210029, Nanjing, China

    • Biqing Chen
  3. State Key Laboratory of Ophthalmology, Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, Sun Yat-Sen University, 510060, Guangzhou, China

    • Xiaohu Ding
    •  & Mingguang He
  4. Department of Statistical Science, School of Mathematics, Sun Yat-Sen University, 510275, Guangzhou, China

    • Xiaobo Guo
  5. College of Laboratory Medicine, Chongqing Medical University, 400016, Chongqing, China

    • Qin Zhou
    • , Han Lei
    • , Ailong Huang
    •  & Tingmei Chen
  6. University-Town Hospital, Chongqing Medical University, 401331, Chongqing, China

    • Shanbi Zhou
  7. MOE Key Laboratory of Medical Diagnostics, Division of Molecular Nephrology and Creative Training Center for Undergraduates, College of Laboratory Medicine, Chongqing Medical University, 400016, Chongqing, China

    • Dongsheng Ni
    • , Yuping Gu
    •  & Jianing Liu


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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yi Rao.

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