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Genes & Empathy

December 9, 2009

A genetic variation correlates with a strong sense of empathy.


Empathy-boosting genes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A genetic variation may enhance some people’s sense of empathy. This according to Oregon State University psychologist Sarina Rodrigues and her colleagues. They focused on a gene that affects oxytocin, a hormone involved in empathy, trust, and love. People with one of three versions of this gene scored especially high on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes.

SARINA RODRIGUES (Oregon State University):
This is basically a task where people view the eyes of different people, and are asked to guess what emotion those eyes are conveying – so what the person is feeling.

A broader personality test rated the same group as extra-empathic. Rodrigues stresses that people with other versions of the gene, like herself, aren’t at all lacking in empathy. But she says the gene could be one of many factors that shape our sense of compassion. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.