November 16, 2009
Oxytocin Receptor Variants Linked To Empathy

In a sample of 200 students those with two copies of a particular allele of an oxytocin receptor appear to be better at reading emotional state in others.

CORVALLIS, Ore. Researchers have discovered a genetic variation that may contribute to how empathetic a human is, and how that person reacts to stress. In the first study of its kind, a variation in the hormone/neurotransmitter oxytocin's receptor was linked to a person's ability to infer the mental state of others.

Interestingly, this same genetic variation also related to stress reactivity. These findings could have a significant impact in adding to the body of knowledge about the importance of oxytocin, and its link to conditions such as autism and unhealthy levels of stress.

Does the ability to read others cut or increase stress? I can see it cutting both ways. Sometimes obliviousness would be an advantage if everyone around you was anxious or depressed. Picking up on their signals would tend to bring you down. On the other hand, sometimes it is dangerous not to be able to read the emotional signals of others.

Can you read the minds of others?

One of the tests used to measure empathy included the "Reading the Mind in Eyes" test, created by Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen). Rodrigues said that this test is commonly used to discern how individuals can put themselves into the mind of another person, which overlaps with empathy, because it tests how well the participant can infer someone's emotional state by their eyes.

"In general, women do better on this test than men," Rodrigues said. "But we found a stark difference in both sexes based on the genetic variation." Those with the GG genetic variation were 22.7 percent less likely to make a mistake on the "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" test than the other individuals.

The article mentions a previous research report that found oxytocin spray given to autistics boosted the scores on behavioral and dispositional empathy measures. I'd like to know whether everyone would get a boost of greater social competence from a snort of oxytocin.

A variety of mental states have utility in different forms. Sometimes you just need to be a calculator. Sometimes you need to be a logic chopper. Other times you need to be a able to read people like a bunch of open books. It'd be helpful to be able to shift around into different useful mental states depending on the circumstances.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 November 16 11:26 PM  Brain Genetics


Comments
Dog of Justice said at November 17, 2009 2:13 PM:

The article mentions a previous research report that found oxytocin spray given to autistics boosted the scores on behavioral and dispositional empathy measures. I'd like to know whether everyone would get a boost of greater social competence from a snort of oxytocin.

This screams "blockbuster drug"...

lindenen said at November 17, 2009 6:42 PM:

Ha. I can imagine women in marriages with men who stray dosing their husbands.

averros said at November 19, 2009 3:06 AM:

> This screams "blockbuster drug"...

Can't be patented. Pharmas aren't interested enough to spend $100M or so to get it apporved by the FDA.

Abolish the FDA. This organization (did you know that its employees carry sidearms?) is truly a monster. Armed medical enforcers.

(Oh, and don't forget that the time-tested empathogen, MDMA, was made illegal by another armed band of thugs - the DEA).

Randall Parker said at November 20, 2009 2:21 PM:

averros,

I think it likely that the net effect of the FDA is harmful. But I think our odds of abolishing it are close to 0. I advocate for less drastic but possibly very valuable reforms. For example, let anyone diagnosed with less than a year to live to take any unapproved drug. Also, remove the efficacy proof requirement for any drug that has a market below X dollars per year.

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