Genetics linked to empathy in massive study

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Genetics linked to empathy in massive study

The study confirmed a higher EQ among women than men but this difference was not found to be genetic. To do so, they combed through data on almost 47,000 people who had used 23andMe, an at-home DNA testing kit, for links between how well they performed on an empathy test and genetic variatons. "It is an important psychological process that facilitates navigating social interactions and maintaining relationships, which are important for well-being". Cognitive empathy refers to the ability to recognize another person's thoughts and feelings, while affective empathy is the ability to respond with an appropriate emotion. EQ studies have shown the differences in empathy among individuals.

Results from prior psychological studies have suggested that empathy may be linked with certain psychiatric disorders.

In fact, women may show greater empathy simply due to their upbringing, life experience and social differences.

This implies that the difference in empathy between males and females is down to non-genetic biological factors.

"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.

Fifteen years ago, the team at the University of Cambridge discovered that empathy is a combination of two separate emotions: cognitive and affective empathy.

Participants were asked 60 questions, such as how far they agreed with the statements "I am quick to spot when someone in a group is feeling awkward or uncomfortable" and "If anyone asked me if I liked their haircut, I would reply truthfully, even if I didn't like it". According to Bourgeron the specific genes have not yet been identified. "This can give rise to disability no less challenging than other kinds of disability, such as dyslexia or visual impairment". "We as a society need to support those with disabilities, with novel teaching methods, workarounds, or reasonable adjustments, to promote inclusion".

The results showed 10 per cent of differences in empathy are determined by genes - but there was no link to the participant's sex.

A tenth of empathetic variation is due to genetic factors.

"This is the first GWAS to investigate the genetic architecture of self-reported empathy", the authors write.

Overall, the researchers found that about 11 percent of the differences in empathy levels in the study population can be explained by the SNP genetic variations - in other words, these variations account for about 10 percent of how empathetic you are - but these variations couldn't explain the difference between the sexes in the study.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge found that genes play a role in how much empathy a person is capable of.

"These results offer a fascinating new perspective on the genetic influences that underpin empathy", comments Thomas Bourgeron, Ph.D., a professor at Paris Diderot University, and director of the Human Genetics and Cognitive Functions Unit at the Institute Pasteur/CNRS.

Dr Varun Warrier said: 'This is an important step towards understanding the small but important role that genetics plays in empathy.

"Our next step is to gather larger samples to replicate these findings, and to pin-point the precise biological pathways associated with individual differences in empathy".

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