Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Being nice is partly genetical

We are continuously increasing our knowledge about how our genes influence our behaviour. Certain personality traits can be partly caused by having a variant of a particular gene, though the environment plays a rather large role as well. Scientists from the University of Buffalo and the University of California have discovered that genes also play a role in being nice: it appears that having a certain gene variant makes someone more inclined to be nice. In addition, the researchers also revealed what mechanism underlies kind behaviour.

Oxytocin is a substance that is frequently dubbed 'the love hormone', and it is important, among other things, for maternal behaviour: it helps create a bond between mother and child. It also promotes kind and nice behaviour. It is therefore not a surprise that the American scientists found that a receptor for oxytocin, which accepts the signal that the hormone sends, partly underlies kind behaviour in human beings. They analyzed different versions of the gene coding for production of the receptor, and one of them was associated with an increase in nice behaviour. Perhaps the reason for this is because it is more susceptible to oxytocin, though that has not been confirmed. The same was found for a receptor that receives signals from another hormone, called vasopressin.
Structure of oxytocin.
When analyzing the subjects taking part in the study, scientists assessed sociable behaviour such as charity, giving blood or general feelings about the world. In general, having the right versions of the aforementioned receptors make people behave nicer, and it also helps to see the world as a friendly place, as viewing it as threatening makes you less inclined to help people. The study was performed with hundreds of volunteers, which gives a lot of statistical power to the outcome.

The findings provide behaviour that we characterize as nice with a biological basis. However, it does not mean we suddenly have found a 'niceness gene', as it is simply one of the factors influencing behaviour. We already knew that oxytocin promotes caregiving behaviour, and the receptor analysis reveals why some people can be naturally more friendly than others. Of course, it is not an excuse to behave rude and anti-social, as the environment and our consciousness plays a large role in our behaviour. 

1 comment:

  1. I think it's our genetics that takes environment as an input to devise its own strategy to tackle how the human ends up..what do you think about this?