Genes may determine our ability to empathize

November 18th, 2009 - 4:08 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Nov 18 (ANI): Scientists at Oregon State University have discovered that empathy can be inherited.

They say that carriers of certain genes are better able to read people’s feelings than others.

The genes are linked to the way in which the body processes oxytocin, otherwise known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ in the brain.

The hormone, naturally released in the body, is believed to be one of the reasons why humans develop emotional bonds with one another.

For the study, lead author Sarina Rodrigues, an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University Researchers, and colleagues tested the effects of the genes on 200 university students, who were all shown pictures of faces and asked to infer emotions from the photographs.

They found that those with the gene variant were almost a quarter more likely to identify the correct emotion.

“In general, women do better on this test than men,” the Telegraph quoted Sarina Rodrigues, an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University, who led the study, as saying.

“But we found a stark difference in both sexes based on the genetic variation,” Rodrigues added.

The results of the study also suggest that the genes could also affect how the carriers deal with stress.

The researchers hope that the discovery of the genes could lead to a better understanding of conditions like autism, in which sufferers often struggle to understands how others are feeling.

A previous study has shown that a nasal oxytocin spray can increase the ability of autism sufferers to understand others emotions and feelings.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). (ANI)

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