Study finds that genes play a role in empathy

Study finds that genes play a role in empathy

The participants took a 60-question Empathy Quotient assessment, which scores both the ability to recognize other peoples' feelings (cognitive empathy) and to respond to those feelings (affective empathy). "We saw that men score, on average, 40, and women score, on average, 50".

Our capacity to feel empathy for the plight of our fellow human beings is partly genetic - and is governed by some of the same genes that lie behind autism, a new study finds.

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.

It also showed that, on average, autistic people score lower on the EQ, and that this was because they struggle with cognitive empathy, even though their affective empathy may be intact.

Overall, the researchers found that about 11 percent of the differences in empathy levels in the study population can be explained by the SNP genetic variations - in other words, these variations account for about 10 percent of how empathetic you are - but these variations couldn't explain the difference between the sexes in the study. This confirms previous research examining empathy in identical versus non-identical twins.

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Turns out, our empathy is not just a result of our education and experiences, but is also influenced by genetic variations to some degree.

Among the study's findings is confirmation that, on average, women experience higher levels of empathy than men.

Finally, the new study found that the genetic variants that tended to reduce a person's empathy were also linked to an increased risk of autism. Three major results emerged from the combined analysis of the test and the samples.

"This is an important step towards understanding the role that genetics plays in empathy". "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". "It will be equally important to understand the non-genetic factors that explain the other 90%", said Varun Warrier, a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge who co-led the study.

"We as a society need to support those with disabilities, with novel teaching methods, work-arounds, or reasonable adjustments, to promote inclusion", he added.

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