Scientists claim that empathy could be in your genes

Scientists claim that empathy could be in your genes

The analysis found genes determine about 10 percent of the result in empathy scores, women on average are more empathetic than men, and the gene variants associated with less empathy also have links to higher risks of autism, the researchers report in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Empathy has two components, one cognitive and one emotional: on the one hand, the ability to recognize one's thoughts and feelings, and on the other, the ability to respond emotionally to the mental state of the other.

"These results offer a fascinating new perspective on the genetic influences that underpin empathy", said Dr. Thomas Bourgeron, who directs the Human Genetics and Cognitive Functions Unit at the Pasteur Institute.

Empathy, emotional matching to the mental state of another person, is not just a matter of raising and experiencing, but also of genes. "Indeed, at least a tenth of this variation is associated with genetic factors", reported the Pasteur Institute in a statement regarding the study.

There is no objective measure of empathy but scientists have relied on the "empathy quotient", which is measured by a 2004 questionnaire developed at the University of Cambridge. This backs up previous research which has found women are more likely than men to copy "contagious" yawns, mirror facial expressions, and simply look at other people's faces, even as babies.

It could be explained by "other non-genetic biological factors", for example hormonal factors, "or non-biological factors such as socialization, which both differ according to sex". Participants completed the 60-question EQ online and provided a saliva sample for genetic analysis.

"Individually each gene plays a small role and it is hard to identify them", said Thomas Bourgeron, one of the study's authors.

A tenth of empathetic variation is due to genetic factors.

These signs of empathy had previously been put down to biological differences - but the latest study suggests otherwise.

It was also confirmed that the average woman has greater empathy than the average man, but not DNA, as there were no differences between the two sexes in the empathic-related genes.

There are no differences in the genes that contribute to empathy in men and women.

"Finding that even a fraction of why we differ in empathy is due to genetic factors helps us understand people such as those with autism who struggle to imagine another person's thoughts and feelings", said Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, of Cambridge University. "We as a society need to support those with disabilities, with novel teaching methods, work-arounds or reasonable adjustments, to promote inclusion".

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