The serotonergic system has been widely implicated in stress related psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. We investigated the possible association between depression and anxiety scores and SNPs within the HTR1A and HTR1B genes in a population sample (n = 1387). There was no direct SNP-phenotype association, but in interaction with recent stressful life events rs6295 G, rs878567 T alleles and rs6296 C alleles were associated with significantly higher symptom scores. A subset of control subjects (n = 101) took part in a computerised face emotion processing task. Healthy rs6295 GG carriers did not show an affective bias to perceive more negative emotions but reacted more quickly to fearful faces. Thus we conclude that the serotonin-1A receptor conveys vulnerability to these psychiatric disorders by modulating threat-related information processing. Our results extend previous findings of an interaction between stressful life events and the serotonin transporter gene to two other genes in the serotonergic pathway and emphasise the possible role of increased threat-related information processing as an intermediate phenotype. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. and ECNP.