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Does a Gene Make People Seem Kinder?
Date:11/15/2011

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 15 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that a variation in a single human gene affects how other people see you at first glance in terms of your compassion, kindness and trustworthiness.

The variation might directly influence your personality, especially in terms of empathy. Or it's possible that it's connected to something else that affects the way you act. On the other hand, the research is based on only a few subjects, so much more study is needed, experts say.

Still, the findings may "speak to the power of little genetic differences to predict tangible differences in the way we behave," said study author Aleksandr Kogan, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of Toronto.

Over the past five to seven years, researchers have been exploring how genetics affect emotions, Kogan said. "What we're learning is that, to a certain extent, we have a genetic basis that supports a lot of the processes that make us nice."

In particular, researchers have focused on a hormone called oxytocin, which has been linked to emotions like love and trust and is found in a variety of animals. Higher levels of oxytocin have been linked to higher levels of trustworthiness, empathy and willingness to sacrifice, Kogan said.

In the new study, Kogan and colleagues focused on a gene linked to the brain's oxytocin receptor, which is a kind of catcher's glove that receives the hormone. They wanted to see if they could link variations in the gene to the way that people are perceived by others.

The researchers compiled 20-second, silent videos of people listening as their romantic partners told a story about a moment of suffering in the partner's life. Then they showed the videos to 116 subjects and asked them to gauge the compassion, kindness and trustworthiness of the people in the videos, Kogan said.

The researchers then tried to see if patterns
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