Monday, 23 April, 2018

Empathy is partly driven by our genes

Donald Trump's talking points perhaps reflect a lack of empathy but could his genes be partly to blame Donald Trump's talking points perhaps reflect a lack of empathy but could his genes be partly to blame? Chip Somodevilla Getty Images
Anna Jefferson | 13 March, 2018, 09:50

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. As part of the study, the 46,000+ 23andMe customers provided the genetics company with saliva samples and completed the EQ test through an online portal.

Human empathy is not only shaped by a persons upbringing and experience but also by their genes, scientists including one of Indian origin have found.

"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", Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Center at the University of Cambridge in England said in a press release.

"The largest genetic study conducted on empathy, using data from more than 46,000 customers of 23andMe", according to the Pasteur Institute, who contributed to the research, has been published Monday in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Empathy - the ability to notice and respond to the feelings of others - is a cornerstone of human interpersonal relations.

The first result of the test suggested that our levels of empathy are partly due to genetics. "We as a society need to support those with disabilities, with novel teaching methods, work-arounds or reasonable adjustments, to promote inclusion".

Turns out, our empathy is not just a result of our education and experiences, but is also influenced by genetic variations to some degree.

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Like the study 15 years ago, researchers found women are, on average, more empathetic than men. "But keep in mind that only a tenth of individual difference in empathy in the population are due to genetics".

With genetics out of the equation, it's not clear why men have less empathy than women do, Warrier said. However, non-genetic biological factors could also play a role.

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".

Researchers also found that genetic variants associated with lower empathy are also associated with higher risk for autism.

Professor Varun Warrier, of Paris Diderot University, added: "These results offer a fascinating new perspective on the generic influences that underpin empathy".

Burgeron pointed out that "the new study shows that genes play a role in empathy, but we have not identified the specific genes involved".

Highlighting genetic factors will help scientists understand persons like the autistic ones, who have problems picturing the emotions and the feelings of the ones around them.

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