Today, we have another awesome guest post by a new guest blogger, Alex Kogan. Alex is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Toronto, Mississauga and he agreed to write a post about a recent article he had published that has received a lot of media attention (see here, here, here and here for just a few examples).
|A gene for empathy?|
The quick answer is absolutely not. But why not? To a certain extent, it is true that genes are ultimately involved in making us kind—after all, humans are biological creatures (i.e. we are not rocks), and genes provide the basic building blocks of our biological hardware. But genetic involvement in kindness is extremely complex—many, many genes are involved in creating all the components of our brains and bodies that are involved in kindness. Furthermore, experiences, environmental situations, and random chance are all very important factors that influence who we are and how we behave. Any given gene is merely one thread pulling us along in the direction of being kind or not so kind; there are many other threads—both other genes and non-genetic factors—that are also very much involved. All these different forces ultimately come together in a very intricate way to create the people that we are.
What this means is that if a person has two copies of the G version of the oxytocin receptor gene, it doesn’t automatically make them a saint—they might still be a terrible person. Similarly, people with even two copies of the A version of the gene are not necessarily psychopaths—they might be some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. What our findings suggest is that the oxytocin receptor gene appears to be involved in the underlying biological processes that promote kindness. But one gene can tell us little about how a specific person will behave or what their personality will be like; there are simply too many other factors in play.
What do you think about Alex's findings? Do you think the media overplayed his results? Do you like media coverage about scientific findings or do you find it misleading? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
Kogan A, Saslow LR, Impett EA, Oveis C, Keltner D, & Rodrigues Saturn S (2011). Thin-slicing study of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene and the evaluation and expression of the prosocial disposition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PMID: 22084107
Alex is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto Mississauga. His research focuses on the biological, psychological, and cultural underpinnings of prosociality and positive emotions.