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Cigarette smoking and personality: Investigating causality using Mendelian randomization

By Hannah Sallis, George Davey Smith, Marcus R. Munafò

Posted 10 Jan 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/246181

Background: Despite the well-documented association between smoking and personality traits such as neuroticism and extraversion, little is known about the potential causal nature of these findings. If it were possible to unpick the association between personality and smoking, it may be possible to develop more targeted smoking cessation programmes that could lead to both improved uptake and efficacy. Methods: Recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified variants robustly associated with both smoking phenotypes and personality traits. Here we use publicly available GWAS summary statistics in addition to data from UK Biobank to investigate the link between smoking and personality. We first estimated genetic overlap between traits using LD score regression and then applied both one- and two-sample Mendelian randomization methods to unpick the nature of this relationship. Results: We found clear evidence of a modest genetic correlation between smoking behaviours and both neuroticism and extraversion, suggesting shared genetic aetiology. We found some evidence to suggest an association between neuroticism and increased smoking initiation. We also found some evidence that personality traits appear to be causally linked to certain smoking phenotypes: higher neuroticism and heavier cigarette consumption, and higher extraversion and increased odds of smoking initiation. The latter finding could lead to more targeted smoking prevention programmes. Conclusion: The association between neuroticism and cigarette consumption lends support to the self-medication hypothesis, while the association between extraversion and smoking initiation could lead to more targeted smoking prevention programmes.

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