Minneapolis – April 05, 2007 - A new study in Journal of Personality shows that selfless and social behavior is not purely a product of environment, specifically religious environment. After studying the behavior of adult twins, researchers found that, while altruistic behavior and religiousness tended to appear together, the correlation was due to both environmental and genetic factors.
According to study author Laura Koenig, the popular idea that religious individuals are more social and giving because of the behavioral mandates set for them is incorrect. “This study shows that religiousness occurs with these behaviors also because there are genes that predispose them to it.”
“There is, of course, no specific gene for religiousness, but individuals do have biological predispositions to behave in certain ways,” says Koenig. “The use of twins in the current study allowed for an investigation of the genetic and environmental influences on this type of behavior.”
This research is another example of the way that genes have an impact on behavior. “Society as a whole assumes that home environments have large impacts on behavior, but studies in behavior genetics are repeatedly showing that our behavior is also influenced by our genes,” says Koenig.
Famed University of Minnesota twins researcher Thomas Bouchard is one of the names on the research paper. Koenig is working with experienced twins researchers. Here's an excerpt from the paper's abstract:
In order to investigate this question, religiousness, antisocial behavior, and altruistic behavior were assessed by self-report in a sample of adult male twins (165 MZ and 100 DZ full pairs, mean age of 33 years). Religiousness, both retrospective and current, was shown to be modestly negatively correlated with antisocial behavior and modestly positively correlated with altruistic behavior.
So religious people are both more altruistic and less anti-social on average. This part is interesting. Sounds like the same genetic factors that increase religiousness also increase altruism. What does that tell us about religiousness?
Altruistic behavior also shared most all of its genetic influence, but only half of its shared environmental influence, with religiousness.
My question: Is altruism getting selected for in industrialized societies? I suspect so because religiousness is getting selected for. Also, selfish people are probably less willing to have kids due to all the work entailed.
Also see my post about previous research by Koenig: Twins Study Finds Adult Religiosity Heritable
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