Niceness may be predicted by our genes

Born nice? Image: Shutterstock


DNA may help explain why some people are nicer than others.

A person’s niceness may have a lot more to do with their nature than previously thought. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo and the University of California in Irvine reveal that at least part of the reason behind why some people are kind — and generous — is because their genes push them towards it.

The study was co-authored by Anneke Buffone and E. Alison Holman, who observed different versions of the receptor genes for two hormones: oxytocin, which promotes maternal behaviour and is also known as the “˜cuddle chemical,’ and vasopressin. According to Michael Poulin, assistant professor of psychology at University at Buffalo and principal author of the study, both hormones have been linked to the way we treat one another and to greater amiability.

The researchers used some of the previous findings to establish whether the chemicals cause other prosocial behaviour such as the urge to donate to charity, report crimes, gives blood or participate in jury duty. Study subjects took part in an online survey where they were questioned on how often they did these activities, and were also asked how they felt about the world and humanity in general. Of the participants, 711 provided saliva samples for DNA analysis, which revealed what form of oxytocin and vasopressin receptors they had.

Those who said they considered life threatening were less likely to help others, unless they had versions of the “˜nice’ receptor genes — that is, individuals with G/G genotypes of one oxytocin receptor and long alleles for a vasopressin receptor. “The ‘nicer’ versions of the genes allow you to overcome feelings of the world being threatening and help other people in spite of those fears,” said Poulin.

“We aren’t saying we’ve found the niceness gene, but we have found a gene that makes a contribution,” said Poulin. “What I find so interesting is the fact that it only makes a contribution in the presence of certain feelings people have about the world around them.” Which means, disappointingly, that we may never be able to inject all the unfriendly people we know with some sort of “˜niceness’ serum.

Source: University at Buffalo, Psychological Science

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