Genetic and neural bases of the neuroticism general factor

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We applied structural equation modeling to conduct a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of the general factor measured by a neuroticism questionnaire administered to ∼380,000 participants in the UK Biobank. We categorized significant genetic variants as acting either through the neuroticism general factor, through other factors measured by the questionnaire, or through paths independent of any factor. Regardless of this categorization, however, significant variants tended to show concordant associations with all items. Bioinformatic analysis showed that the variants associated with the neuroticism general factor disproportionately lie near or within genes expressed in the brain. Enriched gene sets pointed to an underlying biological basis associated with brain development, synaptic function, and behaviors in mice indicative of fear and anxiety. Psychologists have long asked whether psychometric common factors are merely a convenient summary of correlated variables or reflect coherent causal entities with a partial biological basis, and our results provide some support for the latter interpretation. Further research is needed to determine the extent to which causes resembling common factors operate alongside other mechanisms to generate the correlational structure of personality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108692
JournalBiological Psychology
StatePublished - Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier B.V.


  • Biology
  • Construct validity
  • Factor analysis
  • Genome-wide association study
  • Neuroticism


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