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Is a stranger trustworthy? You'll know in 20 seconds
Date:11/15/2011

There's definitely something to be said for first impressions. New research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests it can take just 20 seconds to detect whether a stranger is genetically inclined to being trustworthy, kind or compassionate.

The findings reinforce that healthy humans are wired to recognize strangers who may help them out in a tough situation. They also pave the way for genetic therapies for people who are not innately sympathetic, researchers said.

"It's remarkable that complete strangers could pick up on who's trustworthy, kind or compassionate in 20 seconds when all they saw was a person sitting in a chair listening to someone talk," said Aleksandr Kogan, lead author of the study and now a postdoctoral student at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. He conducted the study while at UC Berkeley.

Two dozen couples participated in the UC Berkeley study, and each provided DNA samples. Researchers then documented the couples as they talked about times when they had suffered. Video was recorded only of the partners as they took turns listening.

A separate group of observers who did not know the couples were shown 20-second video clips of the listeners and asked to rate which seemed most trustworthy, kind and compassionate, based on their facial expressions and body language.

The listeners who got the highest ratings for empathy, it turned out, possess a particular variation of the oxytocin receptor gene known as the GG genotype.

"People can't see genes, so there has to be something going on that is signaling these genetic differences to the strangers," Kogan said. "What we found is that the people who had two copies of the G version displayed more trustworthy behaviors more head nods, more eye contact, more smiling, more open body posture. And it was these behaviors that signaled kindness to the strangers."

The study, which builds on previous UC Berkeley research o
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Contact: Yasmin Anwar
yanwar@berkeley.edu
510-643-7944
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert

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