Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More on the trust and empathy hormone...

Natalie Angier does a summary of some recent studies on oxytocin, several of which I've already mentioned in MindBlog posts (enter oxytocin in the search box to list them). Of particular interest is recent work from Keltner's group showing that genetic differences in people’s responsiveness to the effects of oxytocin are linked to their ability to read faces, infer the emotions of others, feel distress at others’ hardship and even to identify with characters in a novel. Here is the abstract from the Keltner group:
Oxytocin, a peptide that functions as both a hormone and neurotransmitter, has broad influences on social and emotional processing throughout the body and the brain. In this study, we tested how a polymorphism (rs53576) of the oxytocin receptor relates to two key social processes related to oxytocin: empathy and stress reactivity. Compared with individuals homozygous for the G allele of rs53576 (GG), individuals with one or two copies of the A allele (AG/AA) exhibited lower behavioral and dispositional empathy, as measured by the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” Test and an other-oriented empathy scale. Furthermore, AA/AG individuals displayed higher physiological and dispositional stress reactivity than GG individuals, as determined by heart rate response during a startle anticipation task and an affective reactivity scale. Our results provide evidence of how a naturally occurring genetic variation of the oxytocin receptor relates to both empathy and stress profiles.

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