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Genetic moderation of the association between regulatory focus and reward responsiveness: a proof-of-concept study

Elena L Goetz1*, Ahmad R Hariri12, Diego A Pizzagalli3 and Timothy J Strauman1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

2 Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

3 Department of Psychiatry, Harvard University Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

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Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders 2013, 3:3  doi:10.1186/2045-5380-3-3

Published: 1 February 2013



Recent studies implicate individual differences in regulatory focus as contributing to self-regulatory dysfunction, particularly not responding to positive outcomes. How such individual differences emerge, however, is unclear. We conducted a proof-of-concept study to examine the moderating effects of genetically driven variation in dopamine signaling, a key modulator of neural reward circuits, on the association between regulatory focus and reward cue responsiveness.


Healthy Caucasians (N=59) completed a measure of chronic regulatory focus and a probabilistic reward task. A common functional genetic polymorphism impacting prefrontal dopamine signaling (COMT rs4680) was evaluated.


Response bias, the participants’ propensity to modulate behavior as a function of reward, was predicted by an interaction of regulatory focus and COMT genotype. Specifically, self-perceived success at achieving promotion goals predicted total response bias, but only for individuals with the COMT genotype (Val/Val) associated with relatively increased phasic dopamine signaling and cognitive flexibility.


The combination of success in promotion goal pursuit and Val/Val genotype appears to facilitate responding to reward opportunities in the environment. This study is among the first to integrate an assessment of self-regulatory style with an examination of genetic variability that underlies responsiveness to positive outcomes in goal pursuit.

Regulatory focus; Self-regulation; Reward responsiveness; Dopamine; COMT