In a first-of-its kind study looking at empathy, researchers have found strong evidence that the ability to read and understand emotions in others simply by looking into their eyes is influenced by our genes.
The researchers found evidence that this important human ability to read, understand and respond to emotions in others — vital for social interactions — is indeed influenced by genetics, and that women were much more adept at discerning emotions than men. The researchers even found a specific genetic variant that influenced that ability in women, an association not found in the opposite sex. In addition, the study found that higher empathy scores were also associated with higher risk for anorexia, more years in school, and openness to new experiences.
The research adds to ongoing studies on the connections between empathy and autism, specifically the ability to infer emotions in others or “cognitive empathy.”
The genetic variant associated with empathy in women is near the gene LRRN1 on chromosome 3, which is highly active in a part of the human brain called the striatum. Brain scans indicate that this portion of the brain may play a role in cognition empathy, but more study is needed to understand this potential connection.
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