Health Care

Empathy May Be Partly Inherited, Study Suggests

Empathy May Be Partly Inherited, Study Suggests”

For the first time, researchers investigated the genetic architecture of empathy using genome-wide association studies, according to results published Monday in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

But, we must not forget that only 10% of the differences between people in empathy are due to genetics, and the remaining 90% are explained by non-genetic factors, "said researcher Varun Worner". This gender difference in EQ was found to be due to other non-genetic factors such as hormonal influences before birth, socialization etc. 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.

University of Cambridge researchers, fifteen years ago, had developed the Empathy Quotient (EQ) which was a measure of empathy.

However, the largest ever study looking at the link between empathy and genetics has found nothing in men's DNA to suggest they should be less caring than women.

Previous studies have shown that some people have greater empathy than others and it has also been found that people with autism disorders have a lower empathy index (especially cognitive). "This can give rise to disability no less challenging than other kinds of disability, such as dyslexia or visual impairment". Participants completed the 60-question EQ online and provided a saliva sample for genetic analysis. "We as a society need to support those with disabilities, with novel teaching methods, workarounds, or reasonable adjustments, to promote inclusion".

"Genetically, [men and women] seem identical, but there is a difference in the empathy score, which is quite significant", Warrier told Live Science. "We saw that men score, on average, 40, and women score, on average, 50".

Further research could still find a genetic difference between the sexes, while male and female hormones may also play a role. But keep in mind that only a tenth of individual differences in empathy in the population are due to genetics.

The team of researchers now were working with 23andMe - a genetics set up along with other scientists and looked at over 46,000 participants who were customers of the company.

It was found that at least one-tenth of the variations in empathy levels between different people could be explained by genetic factors, with variants associated with lower empathy also linked to a higher risk for autism.

"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.

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