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Happy Face Genetics

July 28, 2011

Differences in a gene influence how much time we spend looking at happy faces.



Gazing at happy faces…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

For most people, looking at happy faces activates pleasure centers in the brain.


The same brain regions are showing activity when you’re eating chocolate.


That’s University of Reading neuroscientist Bhisma Chakrabarti. Now, he and Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen have shown that the amount of time people spend gazing at happy faces is influenced by variations in a gene called CNR1. The gene codes for cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which are involved in our experience of pleasure. Chakrabarti says the findings could have implications for autism research, because people with autism gaze at faces differently than the general population. He speculates that if autistic children don’t get pleasure from looking at happy faces, that may affect how they socialize with others as they mature.


If the happy face is not rewarding to you, then over a period of time, this can lead to more autistic symptoms.


But more work is needed to determine if their CNR1 genes are different as well. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.