Social genomics

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Social genomics is a relatively new field of research that examines why and how different social factors and processes (e.g., social stress, conflict, isolation, attachment, etc.) affect the activity of the genome. The earliest work on this topic was conducted in animal model systems, such as zebra finch, honeybee, and cichlid,[1][2] by Gene E. Robinson[3] at the University of Illinois among others.

More recently, research has shown that the activity of literally hundreds of genes (called "gene profiles" or "gene programs") can be affected by the physical and social environments that humans inhabit. This field of research, which has been called "human social genomics" by George Slavich[4] and Steven Cole[5] at UCLA, has begun to examine the types of genes that are sensitive to social input, the mechanisms that convert social input into gene expression, and the genetic factors (e.g., genetic polymorphisms, etc.) that moderate these effects.[6] A key finding in this regard has been the discovery that experiences of social stress and adversity upregulate systemic inflammation,[7][8] which can in turn damage human health over the lifespan.[9] The fact that social factors can influence gene expression begins to provide the basis for how the external social environment has the ability to remodel complex behavior and promote susceptibility to disease. It also challenges some of our most basic assumptions, like the notion that we are biologically stable over time and across the different physical environments and social situations that we encounter in daily life.


  1. ^ Robinson, G. E., Fernald, R. D., & Clayton, D. F. (2008). Genes and social behavior. Science, 322, 896–900.
  2. ^ Robinson, G. E., Grozinger, C. M., & Whitfield, C. W. (2005). Sociogenomics: Social life in molecular terms. Nature Reviews Genetics, 6, 257–270.
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  6. ^ Slavich, G. M., & Cole, S. W. (2013). The emerging field of human social genomics. Clinical Psychological Science, 1, 331-348.
  7. ^ Slavich, G. M., Way, B. M., Eisenberger, N. I., & Taylor, S. E. (2010). Neural sensitivity to social rejection is associated with inflammatory responses to social stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 14817-14822.
  8. ^ Cole, S. W., Arevalo, J. M. G., Takahashi, R., Sloan E. K., Lutgendorf, S. K., Sood, A. K., Sheridan, J. F., & Seeman, T. E. (2010). Computational identification of gene-social environment interaction at the human IL6 locus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 5681-5686.
  9. ^ Finch, C. E., & Crimmins, E. M. (2004). Inflammatory exposure and historical changes in human life-spans. Science, 305, 1736-1739.