Last week, DNAction reported on a new study arguing that empathetic character traits, such as being trustworthy and caring, may be powerfully linked to our genetics. The paper was published on November 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the lead author is is Aleksandr Kogan, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto. Over the last week, there has been some lively discussion about the credibility of the study due to its small population. In an article published in Genomes Unzipped, Joe Pickrell, Jeff Barrett, Daniel MacArthur and Luke Jostins address the problems with the study.
“We find it frustrating to see researchers making two-decade-old mistakes today,” the Genomes Unzipped authors write. “Consider the paper in question by Alex Kogan and colleagues. The authors took a highly-studied candidate gene (the oxytocin receptor) and tested for association between a genetic variant in this gene and a trait called prosociality in a sample of 23 individuals. In light of what we know about complex trait genetics, this study design is hopelessly underpowered.”