We may be genetically wired to be empathic finds study

Leslie Hanson
March 12, 2018

The study analyzed data for more than 46,000 people.

However, this difference was not due to DNA as there were no differences in the genes that contribute to empathy in men and women.

Researchers have found that around a tenth of our ability to recognise and respond appropriately to another person's thoughts and feelings comes down to our DNA.

University of Cambridge researchers, fifteen years ago, had developed the Empathy Quotient (EQ) which was a measure of empathy. Varun Warrier, a PhD student at the Autism Research Centre, Cambridge was the study leader who was guided by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, Professor Thomas Bourgeron, of the University Paris Diderot and the Institut Pasteur, and Professor David Hinds, Scientist at 23andMe. The study confirmed a higher EQ among women than men but this difference was not found to be genetic.

Previous studies have shown that some people have greater empathy than others and it has also been found that people with autism disorders have a lower empathy index (especially cognitive). "This empathy difficulty can give rise to a disability that is no less challenging than other kinds of disability". Each participant completed the EQ online and provided a saliva sample for analysis.


Baron-Cohen also stressed that society should offer support to people with disabilities by using "novel teaching methods, workarounds, or reasonable adjustments, to promote inclusion". Conversely there was no apparent genetic basis to sex-based difference in empathy. ".we identified significant genetic correlations" between EQ in females (EQ-F) and anorexia.and EQ in males (EQ-M) and autism", the researchers note.

"This is an important step towards understanding the small but important role that genetics plays in empathy". "But since only a 10th of the variation in the degree of empathy between individuals is down to genetics, it is equally important to understand the non-genetic factors".

"A new study has indicated that a person's capacity for empathy is influenced in part by genetic factors."

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. According to Bourgeron the specific genes have not yet been identified. "The next step is to study an even larger number of people, to replicate these findings and to pinpoint the biological pathways associated with individual differences in empathy".

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