Saturday, November 19, 2011

The empathy gene

New research claims that there is an empathy gene that determines trustworthiness, and that others can spot it from a couple of glances:
Strangers can "see" a persons trustworthy genes through their behaviors, suggests a new study finding that a single genetic change makes a person seem more compassionate and kind to others.

The gene in question is the "love hormone," or oxytocin, receptor. A single change in the receptor can result in higher or lower empathy, or how much you can emotionally relate to others. These changes can be detected by strangers from just 20 seconds of soundless video; these strangers could literally see the person's genes manifesting in their behavior.
Previous 2009 research said (in this paper):
One of the substances that experts thought to be responsible for this trait was oxytocin. ... The polymorphism, called rs53576, may be what causes empathy differences in the general population.
Here is the soundless video:
A new UC Berkeley study shows that people who are rated as trustworthy, kind and compassionate are more likely to possess a particular variation of the oxytocin receptor gene known as the GG genotype. This video shows a sequence of five individuals listening to their romantic partners talk about times when they suffered.
Look for yourself. Do you really believe that trustworthiness can be judged from these videos? Or that it is determined by a gene?

Some research says that Aspergers folks have too little empathy, and some says they have
too much empathy.

The new study seems dubious to me. It only involved 23 subjects. It got different results for Koreans and Americans.

The so-called empathy gene, rs53576, is not new to humans. The researchers claim that all human ancestors once had it, and that it is tne opposite variant that is gaining by evolution in the population. If so, that would seem to imply that the empathy gene is disadvantageous.


A K Haart said...

I think we are on shaky ground with research of this type. There seems to be no clear distinction between theory and data.

What if the supposed empathy gene results in too-close an empathy with your own research? Frivolous question I know, but I do wonder if the reasoning has a tendency to be circular.

Roger said...

Yes. It all seems even more dubious when they talk about trustworthiness. They don't really know whether their subjects are trustworthy.