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Subjective well-being and Genetics. Our presentation is based on: Weiss A, Bates TC, Luciano M (2008) Happiness is a personal(ity) thing: the genetics of personality and well-being in a representative sample. Psychological Science 19, 205–210. How important is?. Life satisfaction

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Subjective well being and genetics

Subjective well-being and Genetics

Our presentation is based on:

Weiss A, Bates TC, Luciano M (2008) Happiness is a personal(ity) thing: the genetics of personality and well-being in a representative sample. Psychological Science 19, 205–210.

How important is
How important is?

Life satisfaction



College students from 17 different countries agree that subjective well-being is the most important in life, more than money (Diener, 2000).

Subjective well being and ffm
Subjective well-being and FFM

DeNeve and Cooper (1998) conducted a meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being found:

Overall correlation between SWB and Personality (r = 0.19).

Subjective well-being is related to the Five-Factor Model

(Extraversion, Neuroticism and Conscientiousness).

Relationships between ffm swb and genetics
Relationships between FFM, SWB and Genetics

Genetic effects account for approximately 50% of variance in the FFM (Bouchard & Loehlin, 2001).

Variance in subjective well-being appears to be heritable (Bouchard & Loehlin, 2001).

Genetics effects account for around 50% of the variance in subjective well-being (Nes, et al., 2006).

Therefore, Genes might partly linked to subjective well-being

Sharing genes may cause subjective well-being and FFM to correlate.

Weiss et al method
Weiss et al. Method

Participants sampled from MacArthur Foundation Survey of Midlife development in US (MIDUS)

  • 50,000 screened by telephone

  • Zygosity (twin similarity/dissimilarity, identical/fraternal) determined by self-report

  • Resultant twin sample included 365 monozygotic and 608 dizygotic twin pairs

  • Personality and subjective well-being data available for at least one or both twins in each pair.

  • All data from the 973 twin pairs used.

Personality measure
Personality measure

  • Each participant received Midlife Development Inventory (MIDI)

  • 25 Item-Personality questionnaire (self-administered, 4 point Likert scales )

  • Degree of N, E, O, A, and C measured (FFM)

Subjective well being measure
Subjective well-being measure

  • Assessed by the answers of three questions

  • Obtained via telephone interview.

  • Questions asked were:-

  • Satisfaction with life currently

  • Control over life

  • Satisfaction with life overall

  • 4 point Likert scale - lower scale – higher wellbeing


  • Modelled covariance of identical twins in terms of additive (A) and nonadditive dominance (D) genetic effects.

  • Covariance of Nonidentical set as 1/2A + 1/4D

  • Unshared effects modelled as unique environment (E).

  • Hypothesis: Genetic variance in subjective well-being stems from the genetics of personality. Can drop latent genetic factors specific to subjective well-being without significant loss in fit.

  • Multivariate Choleskydecompostion of additive genetic, dominance genetic, and unique environmental covariance between the measures used to test hypothesis. (Theoretical reduced model vs. saturated model)



The Genetics of Subjective Well-Being

(Weiss, Bates & Luciano, 2008)

Important findings
Important Findings

  • No evidence for genetic effects unique to SWB

    - Lykken & Tellegen (1996) : 80% of the stable component of SWB is inherited.

    - Inherited personality traits predispose people to happiness?

    - Variability underlying individual differences in happiness also responsible for differences in personality traits?

    Suggests involvement of higher order factor.

General genetic factor
General Genetic Factor?

  • Results suggest that a higher order, general genetic factor may underlie or contribute to variances in individual differences in personality traits and SWB.

  • Figueredo et al: Life history strategies (2004, 2005, 2007)

    - Higher order factor (K) undelrlies a variety of distinct life history parameters

    - common factor K correlates with a number of personality traits; “Big Neuroticism” r=-0.24, “Big Psychoticism” r=-0.67, “Big Exroversion” r=0.12

Environmental factors
Environmental Factors

  • Some research has suggested that 50% of overall life satisfaction is not genetically predetermined.

    However, they may be mostly transient.

    Set Point Theory

    The idea that ‘individuals return to baseline levels of happiness following a change in life circumstances’(Lucas, 2007).

    Genetics may influence the extent of change and speed of recovery to baseline.

    Nes et al (2006): long-term stability of SWB was mainly attributed to stable genetic factors, whereas susceptibility to change was mostly related to individual environmental facotrs.

Future research
Future Research

Identify the gene(s) responsible for forming personality (and in turn happiness) which affects so many aspects of life.

Investigate the relationship between SWB and other factors, controlling for personality.


Bouchard, T.J., Jr., & Loehlin, J.C. (2001). Genes, evolution, and personality. Behavior Genetics, 31, 243–273.

DeNeve, K.M., & Cooper, H. (1998). The happy personality: A metaanalysis

of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 197–229.

Diener, E. (2000). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness, and a proposal for a national index. American Psychologist, 55, 34–43.

Nes, R.B., Rysamb, E., Tambs, K., Harris, J.R., & Reichborn-Kjennerud, T. (2006). Subjective well-being: Genetic and environmental contributions to stability and change. Psychological Medicine, 36, 1033–1042.

Weiss A, Bates TC, Luciano M (2008) Happiness is a personal(ity) thing: the genetics of personality and well-being in a representative sample. Psychol ogical Science ,19, 205–210.

Thank you
Thank You

Amy C. Challacombe

Lindsey C. Eunson

Sittha Grindlay