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Genes play a role in empathy, says study

13 March 2018

The results show that "Our empathy is partly genetic, because at least a tenth of this variation is associated with genetic factors", the Pasteur Institute summed up in a statement.

Researchers have found that around a tenth of our ability to recognise and respond appropriately to another person's thoughts and feelings comes down to our DNA.

In a new study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the Cambridge team, working with the genetics company 23andMe and a team of global scientists, report the results of the largest genetic study of empathy using information from more than 46,000 23andMe customers.

The new study, carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge, the Pasteur Institute, the University of Dennye Diderot in Paris, the National Research Center of France (CNRS) and the Genetic Analysis Company 23andMe, headed by the British Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and the French Tomas Bourgeron, has highlighted the genetic background of empathy.

Autism and related disorders affect indeed the "cognitive empathy", namely the faculty to recognize the feelings of others.

Fifteen years ago, University of Cambridge scientists developed the Empathy Quotient, or EQ, a brief self-reported measure of empathy.

The Linkage Disequilibrium Score Regression (LDSR) was used to find genetic patterns, and to correlate any patterns with the scores from the empathy assessment.

Previous research showed that some of us are more empathetic than others, and that on average, women are slightly more empathetic than men.

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"This is an important step towards understanding the role that genetics plays in empathy", said Varun Warrier, a doctoral student at Cambridge.

With genetics out of the equation, it's not clear why men have less empathy than women do, Warrier said.

They have also confirmed what many may have already suspected - that women tend to be more empathetic than men. As well, the findings reveal that in cases where genes are associated with lower empathy levels, there's an associated increase in the risk of autism.

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

"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", Bourgeron said.

"This can give rise to disability no less challenging than other kinds of disability, such as dyslexia or visual impairment", said Baron-Cohen.

This is unedited, unformatted feed from the Press Trust of India wire.

Genes play a role in empathy, says study