Empathy 'is influenced by genetic factors'

Empathy 'is influenced by genetic factors'

Lead author Varun Warrier, from the University of Cambridge, said: 'We have not yet found any genetic evidence to explain a difference in empathy between men and women.

"This implies that the sex difference in empathy is the result of other non-genetic biological factors, such as prenatal hormone influences, or non-biological factors such as socialisation, both of which also differ between the sexes", the study said.

People's capacity for empathy can vary depending on their genetic makeup, according to new research.

Empathy - the ability to notice and respond to the feelings of others - is a cornerstone of human interpersonal relations. There are two different aspects to empathy.

"Cognitive empathy" is the ability to recognise another persons thoughts and feelings and "affective empathy" is the second part which is the appropriate response.

"This new study demonstrates a role for genes in empathy, but we have not yet identified the specific genes that are involved", said Bourgeron, in a school statement. What isn't understood is whether there is a causal relationship between empathy and the risk for developing a psychiatric disorder, or whether, conversely, differences in empathy could themselves be caused by an underlying psychiatric disorder.

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).

The study from the University of Cambridge, the Institut Pasteur, Paris Diderot University, the CNRS and the genetics company 23andMe analysed information from more than 46,000 people, making it the largest genetic study of empathy to date.


More than 46,000 users completed a EQ online test and provided a DNA sample for analysis. These variations, called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, are the most common type of genetic variation. "This empathy difficulty can give rise to a disability that is no less challenging than other kinds of disability".

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

The GWAS data also highlighted significant genetic associations between EQ and either schizophrenia or anorexia nervosa, which were gender-related.

Genetics plays a role in people's empathy - in addition to education and experience - and could help researchers and doctors better understand autism, according to a large study.

This difference, however, is not genetic. They also found corresponding changes in brain structure.

"This is the first GWAS to investigate the genetic architecture of self-reported empathy", the authors write.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge found that genes play a role in how much empathy a person is capable of.

"Individually each gene plays a small role and it is hard to identify them", said Thomas Bourgeron, one of the study's authors. As well, the findings reveal that in cases where genes are associated with lower empathy levels, there's an associated increase in the risk of autism.

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