Social behaviour

The acquisition of social skills enables children to engage successfully in peer relationships and friendship networks. Mastering these skills plays an important role during development and has long-term effects on individual well-being, self-esteem, positive engagement, problem solving skills and resilience1, 2. In turn, peer relationships offer opportunities for acquiring social norms and learning new social skills3-5.

There are many facets of social skills. Prosocial behaviour describes a positive interaction with people through helping, sharing, cooperating, and comforting other impacting on peer relationships6, 7. Infants, as early as two years of age, have been shown to help, comfort, share, and cooperate with others8, 9. It is thought that young children express a “ready prosociality”9, irrespective of reward. This behaviour may reflect an early biological mechanism that, as an evolutionary advantageous social strategy, facilitates the response to early social cues8 and supports the development of first peer relationships4. While prosocial skills involve behaviour that benefits others, peer problems indicate the rejection by peers10. Children with peer problems have no ‘good’ friends, are ‘not liked’ or ‘harassed’ by other children11. Peer problems have been associated with aggressive, hyperactive and/or oppositional behaviour, but children with peer problems might also be socially withdrawn and less sociable than others4. However, the behavioural spectrum of social skills associated with friendship networks changes during childhood and adolescence, as distinct developmental stages1 may draw out different genetic propensities12.


In this genome-wide association meta-analysis we aim to identify genetic variants (and their changes) that affect social behaviour during early childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Therefore, we combine genome-wide association study (GWAS) summary statistics across different social traits, different ages, different raters and sex.

Study information

Social behaviour scores included in this study were assessed using various validated instruments (Table 1). If you have any questions about the study or would like to participate, please contact Beate St Pourcain (

Table 1: Psychological instruments assessing social behaviour

Scale Short Instruments
Prosocial behaviour (coded as low prosociality) PB Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire (SDQ)11
Revised Rutter Parent Scale for Preschool Children (RR)14
Peer problems PP Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire (SDQ)11
Social competence SCBE Social competence and behaviour evaluation15
Pervasive developmental problems PDP Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL)16 for the age of 1.5-5 years
Social problems SP Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL)17 for the age of 6-18 years

Teacher’s report form of CBCL (TRF) for teacher ratings

Youth Self Report (YSR)

Adjustment A Multidimensional Peer Nomination Inventory (MPNI)18, 19
Peer rejection and acceptance PR Berkeley Puppet Interview (BPI)

  1. Hartup, W.W. The company they keep: friendships and their developmental significance. Child development 67, 1-13 (1996).
  2. Durkin, K. & Conti-Ramsden, G. Language, social behavior, and the quality of friendships in adolescents with and without a history of specific language impairment. Child development 78, 1441-1457 (2007).
  3. Rubin, K.H., Bukowski, W.M. & Parker, J.G. Peer interactions, relationships, and groups. Handbook of child psychology (1998).
  4. Boivin, M. The origin of peer relationship difficulties in early childhood and their impact on children’s psychosocial adjustment and development. Encyclopedia on early childhood development, 1-7 (2005).
  5. Fabes, R.A., Gaertner, B.M. & Popp, T.K. Getting Along with Others: Social Competence in Early Childhood. (2006).
  6. Hay, D.F. Prosocial Development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 35, 29-71 (1994).
  7. Jackson, M. & Tisak, M.S. Is prosocial behaviour a good thing? Developmental changes in children’s evaluations of helping, sharing, cooperating, and comforting. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 19, 349-367 (2001).
  8. Warneken, F. & Tomasello, M. Altruistic helping in human infants and young chimpanzees. science 311, 1301-1303 (2006).
  9. Brownell, C.A. Early Development of Prosocial Behavior: Current Perspectives. Infancy 18, 1-9 (2013).
  10. Saudino, K.J., Ronald, A. & Plomin, R. The etiology of behavior problems in 7-year-old twins: substantial genetic influence and negligible shared environmental influence for parent ratings and ratings by same and different teachers. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 33, 113-130 (2005).
  11. Goodman, R. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: a research note. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry 38, 581-586 (1997).
  12. St Pourcain, B., et al. Heritability and genome-wide analyses of problematic peer relationships during childhood and adolescence. Human Genetics 134, 539-551 (2015).
  13. Price, A.L., et al. Principal components analysis corrects for stratification in genome-wide association studies. Nat Genet 38, 904-909 (2006).
  14. Elander, J. & Rutter, M. Use and development of the Rutter parents’ and teachers’ scales. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research (1996).
  15. LaFreniere, P.J. & Dumas, J.E. Social competence and behavior evaluation: Preschool edition (SCBE) (Western Psychological Services, 1995).
  16. Achenbach, T.M. & Rescorla, L.A. Manual for the ASEBA preschool forms and profiles (Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Research center for children, youth, & families, 2000).
  17. Achenbach, T.M. & Rescorla, L. ASEBA school-age forms & profiles. (Aseba Burlington, VT, 2001).
  18. Pulkkinen, L., Kaprio, J. & Rose, R.J. Peers, teachers and parents as assessors of the behavioural and emotional problems of twins and their adjustment: the Multidimensional Peer Nomination Inventory. Twin Research and Human Genetics 2, 274-285 (1999).
  19. Pulkkinen, L., Vaalamo, I., Hietala, R., Kaprio, J. & Rose, R.J. Peer reports of adaptive behavior in twins and singletons: is twinship a risk or an advantage? Twin Research and Human Genetics 6, 106-118 (2003).



Lead analysts:

Fenja Schlag (

Lucía de Hoyos (

Daniëlle Admiraal (

Lead PI:

Beate St Pourcain (

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

The Netherlands




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