Is Kindness In Our DNA?

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Have you ever felt like niceness was in your genes? It might be.

Scientists in California and New York recently completed work on a study exploring the idea of goodwill being passed down genetically. Research focused on the presence of receptor genes for two specific hormones (oxytocin and vasopressin) which have been linked to maternal instincts and charitable behavior.

“Humans are intensely social, and these hormones may have a lot to do with why we have evolved to be so social and so cooperative,” Dr. Margaret McCarthy explained.

The researchers asked participants questions about their general attitude and worldview, in addition to checking for the presence of the hormones in question. Subjects explained whether or not they viewed the world as threatening, how they related to their friends and neighbors, and even if they attended PTA meetings. People who exhibited a more cautious view of society were less likely to engage in nice or charitable behavior. However, if subjects possessed “kindness hormones,” they generally engaged in caring behavior, no matter what their attitude.

“We aren’t saying we’ve found the niceness gene, but we have found a gene that makes a contribution,” Dr. Poulin explained in a press release.

So if you’re feeling grouchy, don’t go blaming it on genetics! Nature and nurture (which includes factors like diet) both play a role in shaping your attitudes – whether you’re a “Nice Nate” or a “Debbie Downer.”

“We are not just puppets of our genes,” Poulin told WebMD. “Genes influence niceness in combination with perceptions of social threat, which come from our past and present experiences.”

Image: I’ll Give You All I Can…, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Brandon Christopher Warren’s photostream.

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