A Gene That Helps You Be Nice

Oxytocin and vasopressin hormones related to niceness gene

(RxWiki News) What is it, exactly, that makes some people be nice, while others grumpy? Fear of the world’s hostility seems to be one answer, but there are some genes that may help you overcome those - and be nicer.

The hormones oxytocin and vasopressin may be related to a person’s ability to overcome feelings of threat.

"We aren't saying we've found the niceness gene," says Michael Poulin, PhD. "We have found a gene that makes a contribution, but I think there's something cool about the fact that it only makes a contribution in the presence of certain feelings people have about the world around them."

The genes associated with the receptors for these hormones, OXTR and AVPRIa, may enable some people to help others despite feeling that the world is a threatening place.

"The manners GrandPa taught you do help others."

The study was led by Michael Poulin, PhD, of the University of Buffalo. The researcher asked 711 participants to take part in an internet survey which asked questions involving civic duty (reporting crime, paying taxes), general feelings about the world, and individual charitable activity (giving blood, PTA, charity work).

The team also collected saliva samples from all participants in order to analyze their DNA. The analysis allowed the team to determine how individuals react to the hormones through their genes.

Participants who reported that they think of the world as a threatening place were less likely to help others. However, some participants who felt threatened had overcome this fear and were likely to help others anyway.

These participants with the OXTR genotype of G/G were more likely to have charitable contributions than participants with the genotype A/A or A/G. These participants body’s, it seems, have an increased ability to interact with the hormone oxytocin.

Participants with the AVPRIa genotype of s/l or s/s were less likely to have a commitment to civic duty. This gene allows the body to have a greater reception to the hormone vasopressin.

The OXTR gene did not have any contribution to civic duty, nor did the AVPRIa gene have any contribution to charitable contribution. In other words, the effects from these genes are individual and do not rely on one another.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science on March 28th, 2012. Study author report no conflicts of interest or external sources of funding.

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Review Date: 
April 19, 2012