Medicine

Genes influence empathy, but don't explain everything

Genes influence empathy, but don't explain everything

Burgeron pointed out that "the new study shows that genes play a role in empathy, but we have not identified the specific genes involved".

The Cambridge study will, however, prove more enlightening for autism researchers, as it also found that genetic variants linked with lower empathy are associated with a higher risk of autism.

Empathy has two components, one cognitive and one emotional: on the one hand, the ability to recognize one's thoughts and feelings, and on the other, the ability to respond emotionally to the mental state of the other.

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

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.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge, the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Diderot University in Paris, the French National Center for Scientific Research and the genetics company 23andMe conducted the largest genetics study of empathy using information from more than 46,000 23andMe customers.

'But keep in mind that only a tenth of individual differences in empathy in the population are due to genetics.




The Empathy Quotient (EQ) was developed fifteen years ago by scientists at the University of Cambridge to measure empathy in adults.

They have also confirmed what many may have already suspected - that women tend to be more empathetic than men.

"Individually each gene plays a small role and it is hard to identify them", said Thomas Bourgeron, one of the study's authors.

'It will be equally important to understand the non-genetic factors that explain the other 90 per cent'.

This confirms previous research examining empathy in identical versus non-identical twins. Though the analysis "revealed no significant difference between the heritability in the males-only and the females-only datasets", causes of the sex difference may include non-genetic biological factors, such as prenatal hormone influences, or non-biological factors such as socialization.

Co-author Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, said the findings could help explain why those with autism may lack "cognitive empathy" - the ability to recognise others' feelings. "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'.


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