Neuroticism, recall bias and attention bias for valenced probes: A twin study

F. V. Rijsdijk, H. Riese, M. Tops, H. Snieder, W. H. Brouwer, H. G.O.M. Smid, J. Ormel

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Prior research on the nature of the vulnerability of neuroticism to psychopathology suggests biases in information processing towards emotional rather than neutral information. It is unclear to what extent this relationship can be explained by genetic or environmental factors. Method: The genetic relationship between a neuroticism composite score and free recall of pleasant and unpleasant words and the reaction time on negative probes (dot-probe task) was investigated in 125 female twin pairs. Interaction effects were modelled to test whether the correlation between neuroticism and cognitive measures depended on the level of the neuroticism score. Results: The only significant correlation was between neuroticism and the proportion of recalled unpleasant words (heritability is 30%), and was only detectable at the higher end of the neuroticism distribution. This interaction effect seems to be due to environmental effects that make people in the same family more similar (e.g. parental discipline style), rather than genetic factors. An interesting sub-finding was that faster reaction times for left versus right visual field probes in the dot-probe task suggest that cognitive processing in the right hemisphere is more sensitive to subliminal (biologically relevant) cues and that this characteristic is under substantial genetic control (49%). Individual differences in reaction times on right visual field probes were due to environmental effects only. Conclusions: There is no evidence that the predisposition of individuals to focus on negative (emotional) stimuli is a possible underlying genetic mechanism of neuroticism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-54
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


  • Dot-probe task
  • Heritability
  • Moderator effects
  • Neuroticism
  • Recall bias


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