No links between genetic variation and developing theory of mind: A preregistered replication attempt of candidate gene studies

T. Opitz, T. Schuwerk*, M. Paulus, D. Kloo, C. Osterhaus, K.P. Lesch, B. Sodian

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Genetic variability is being discussed as a source of inter-individual differences in Theory of Mind development. Previous studies documented an association between variations in DRD4 VNTR 48 bp, OXTR rs53576, COMT rs4680, and Theory of Mind task performance. As empirical evidence on these associations is sparse, we conducted a preregistered replication attempt of a study reporting a link between DRD4 VNTR 48 bp and false belief understanding in 50-month-old children [Lackner, C., Sabbagh, M. A., Hallinan, E., Liu, X., & Holden, J. J. (2012). Developmental Science, 15(2), 272-280.]. Additionally, we attempted a replication of studies on the role of OXTR rs53576 and COMT rs4680 in Theory of Mind. In both replication attempts, we did not find any evidence for associations between the sampled genetic markers and Theory of Mind ability in a series of analyses. Extending the replication attempt of Lackner et al., we employed longitudinal data from several tasks and measurement points, which allowed us to run follow-up robustness checks with more reliable scores. These extensive analyses corroborated our null finding. This comprehensive non-replication is important to balance current research on genetic markers of Theory of Mind. In a combined evaluation of our own and previous studies, we point to substantial methodological issues that research on the genetic basis of Theory of Mind development faces. We conclude that these limitations currently prevent firm conclusions on genetic influences on Theory of Mind development.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13100
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental Science
Volume24
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021

Keywords

  • COMT
  • DRD4
  • false belief
  • OXTR
  • theory of mind

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