Empathy is partly driven by our genes


In a new study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the Cambridge team, working with the genetics company 23andMe and a team of global scientists, report the results of the largest genetic study of empathy using information from more than 46,000 23andMe customers. A study led by scientists from the University of Cambridge, the Institut Pasteur, Paris Diderot University, the CNRS and the genetics company 23andMe, which used information from more than 46,000 23andMe customers, first revealed that our empathy is partly down to genetics.

The 60 questions that made up the EQ test focused on various aspects of empathy, including cognitive empathy (the ability to understand others' states of mind) and affective empathy (the ability to react appropriately to others).The former is known to be impaired, for example, in people with autism. This set of disorders affects indeed "cognitive empathy", namely the faculty to recognize the feelings of others. 15 years ago, British scientists developed the first Impressionist Index, which measures both of these forms.

The sample pool included more than 46,000 people, all customers of 23andMe.

"This new study demonstrates a role for genes in empathy, but we have not yet identified the specific genes that are involved", said Thomas Bourgeron, professor at Cambridge.

"This is an important step towards understanding the role that genetics plays in empathy". This is said to be the largest study on empathy as it relates to genetics, helping shed light on why some people may experience greater degrees of it than others.

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For women who think that men just don't seem to understand, well, you're right: Men really are less empathetic than women, and a new study from England offers clues about why this might be the case. This, according to the researchers, means that if a woman is more compassionate, it has to do either with non-genetic biological factors (eg hormonal influences) or with non-biological factors such as different upbringing and socialization.

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 new study confirmed that women on average showed more empathy than men, but this difference is not due to our DNA", the University of Cambridge said in a statement.

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

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