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Genome-wide meta-analysis of cognitive empathy: heritability, and correlates with sex, neuropsychiatric conditions and cognition

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Warrier, V 
Grasby, K 
Uzefovsky, F 
Toro, R 
Smith, P 


We conducted a genome-wide meta-analysis of cognitive empathy using the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ Test (Eyes Test) in 88,056 research volunteers of European Ancestry (44,574 females and 43,482 males) from 23andMe Inc., and an additional 1497 research volunteers of European Ancestry (891 females and 606 males) from the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study. We confirmed a female advantage on the Eyes Test (Cohen’s d=0.21, P<2.2 × 10−16), and identified a locus in 3p26.1 that is associated with scores on the Eyes Test in females (rs7641347, Pmeta=1.58 × 10−8). Common single nucleotide polymorphisms explained 5.8% (95% CI: 4.5%–7.2%; P=1.00 × 10−17) of the total trait variance in both sexes, and we identified a twin heritability of 28% (95% CI: 13%–42%). Finally, we identified significant genetic correlation between the Eyes Test and anorexia nervosa, openness (NEO-Five Factor Inventory), and different measures of educational attainment and cognitive aptitude.



Adult, Aged, Anorexia Nervosa, Cognition, Empathy, Female, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Genome-Wide Association Study, Humans, Male, Mental Disorders, Middle Aged, Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide, Sex Factors, Twins, White People

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Molecular Psychiatry

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Nature Publishing Group
Wellcome Trust (091774/Z/10/Z)
Autism Research Trust (unknown)
Department of Health (via National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)) (NF-SI-0515-10097)
Medical Research Council (G0600977)
This study was funded by grants from the Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc., the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Autism Research Trust, the Institut Pasteur, the CNRS and the University Paris Diderot. VW is funded by St. John’s College, Cambridge, and Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. The research was carried out in association with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East of England at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. The research was supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health (grant number R44HG006981). The National Science Foundation (grant numbers 0729493 and 0721707) supported the research on the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study. FU was supported by the British Friends of Haifa University, the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 449/14), the British Friends of Hebrew University, and the Joseph Levy Charitable Foundation. TB was supported by the Institut Pasteur and the Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation. We thank the research participants and employees of 23andMe for making this work possible. We also thank the volunteers of the Brisbane Longitudinal Twin Study and the NIHR Cambridge BioResource.