The 5-HTTLPR polymorphism impacts moral permissibility of impersonal harmful behaviors

Yafang Yang, Chunlan Wang, Xiaohan Li, Rongjun Yu, Mengfei Zhang, Mengying Xue, Wenxuan Guo, Linlin He, Xiaocai Gao, Pingyuan Gong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Inspired by the roles of serotonin in an emotional aversion to harmful actions, we examined to what extent serotonin transporter gene (5-HTT)–linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR), a proxy for measuring serotonin function, underpinned the individual differences in moral judgment through cross-sectional analysis and two-wave comparison. The cross-sectional analysis with a larger cohort (N = 1197) showed that the SS carriers of the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism, corresponding to the low ratio of serotonin recycling from the synaptic cleft, rated impersonal harmful actions (e.g. flipping a switch to divert a train to hit one person instead of five people) as more permissible as compared with the L-allele carriers. The two-wave comparison with a subsample from the larger cohort (N = 563) indicated that the association between 5-HTTLPR polymorphism and moral permissibility of impersonal harmful actions was stable from wave 1 to wave 2. Thus, these findings highlight the importance of the 5-HTTLPR polymorphism to harmful moral behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)911-918
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

User-Defined Keywords

  • cross-sectional analysis
  • impersonal harm
  • moral judgment
  • personal harm
  • serotonin transporter gene
  • two-wave comparison


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