Are Europeans genetically predisposed towards empathy?

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One of my interests is affective empathy, the involuntary desire not only to understand another person’s emotional state but also to make it one’s own — in short, to feel the pain and joy of other people. This mental trait has a heritability of 68 percent and is normally distributed along a bell curve within any one population. Does it also vary statistically among human populations? This is possible. Different cultures give varying importance to affective empathy, and humans have adapted much more to their cultural environments than to their natural environments.

I have argued previously that Europeans to the north and west of the Hajnal Line (an imaginary line running from Trieste to Saint-Petersburg) have adapted to a cultural environment of weaker kinship and, conversely, greater individualism. In such an environment, the reciprocal obligations of kinship are insufficient to ensure compliance with social rules. This isn’t a new situation. Weak kinship is inherent to the Western European Marriage Pattern, which goes back to at least the 12th century, if not earlier.

What direct evidence do we have that affective empathy is stronger on average in Northwest Europeans? We know that a higher capacity for affective empathy is associated with a larger amygdala, which seems to control our response to facial expressions of fear and other signs of emotional distress. Two studies, one American and one English, have found that “conservatives” tend to have a larger right amygdala. In both cases, my hunch is that “conservatives” are disproportionately drawn from populations that have, on average, a higher capacity for affective empathy.

Read full, original post: A Genetic Marker for Empathy?

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