Friday, March 16, 2012

My "empathy gene"

Yesterday I was reading an article about oxytocin – the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone”. The piece mentioned that certain genetic variants of the oxytocin receptor gene, OXTR, are thought to be associated with a higher level of sociability, empathy towards others, etc., and so I decided to go and see which variant I had been dealt in the genetic lottery.

(click on the title to continue reading)

Well, apparently, I’m not that sociable, or trusting, or sensitive to other people’s emotions, because my genetic makeup at SNP rs53576 is “AG” – and that to be really good I would need to have a “GG” at that location. It’s true that I often find it hard to read other people’s emotions on their faces – but I don’t think I’m all that inconsiderate or introverted as they seem to say my variant should make me. I’m sure that, as happens with everyone of our human behaviors, there’s a genetic component in social attitudes, and a cultural and autobiographical component as well.

It seems that the A also makes people more (negatively) sensitive to stress. That, I must say, seems more familiar...

For the record, it was in 2009 that Sarina Rodrigues and colleagues at the University of California and Oregon Sate University announced in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they had identified an “empathy gene”. The gene, OXTR, is the molecular receptor that allows for oxytocin’s various effects on human social behaviour. They observed that, at SNP rs53576, people could have an A or a G (two of the four DNA “letters”), and that those who had inherited a G from both their mother and father tended to be more pro-social.