Harm Avoidance as a possible mediator in the relationship between the 5-HTTLPR and Cognitive Anxiety in High Level Athletes

Annamaria Petito, Giovanna D'Andrea, Francesco Sessa, Francesca Fortunato, Giuseppina Iannelli, Antonello Bellomo, Maurizio Margaglione, Mario Altamura, Salvatore Iuso


Background: The identification of relationship between genes and emotional distress mediated by personality traits among high level athletes may help to implement specific clinical psychology programs. Findings suggest that 5-HTTLPR genetic polymorphisms may be associated with Harm Avoidance (HA). The present research is aimed at evaluating the relationship between HA, the serotonin transporter’s (5-HTTLPR) polymorphisms and cognitive anxiety (CA) in high level athletes during championship.

Methods: 133 athletes completed the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) test. Sport Performance Psychological Inventory (IPPS-48) was used to assess athlete’s cognitive and emotional aspects. Genotypes at the 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms were identified through a polymerase chain reaction.

Results: An association has been found between the 5-HTTLPR s/s genotype and both cognitive anxiety (p<0.05) and HA (p<0.05). Significant correlations were proved between HA and CA (p<0.01), Emotional Arousal Control (p<0.001) and Concentration Disruption (p<0.05). HA has been proven to mediate the association between the 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms and CA symptoms (p<0.05).

Conclusions: Such findings clearly suggest, there is a substantial interaction between 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms, HA and competition-related stress that predicts adverse psychological outcomes in high level athletes. The interaction between the environment and genetics can lead directly to emotional disturbance and therefore to disturbances in cognitive and emotional processing.


5-HTTLPR genotype; Harm avoidance; Cognitive anxiety; High level athletes; Clinical psychology.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.6092/2282-1619/mjcp-2757


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