A new study in the journal Psychological Science suggests this: If you think the world is full of threatening people, you're not going feel compelled to be generous by doing things like volunteering and donating to charity. But if you have certain gene variants, you're more likely to be nice anyway.
Now hold on a minute - this doesn't give your mean neighbor an excuse to blame his DNA for not letting kids on the block play on his lawn.
It's a little more complicated than that.
The research: A few questions and some spit
Researchers offered an online survey to participants asking questions like:
–do people have a duty to pay taxes?
–are people basically good or bad?
–do you engage in charitable activities?
Then some participants sent in samples of their saliva so researchers could check out their DNA. A total of 348 U.S. residents were included in the final analysis.
Researchers analyzed the spit samples. They looked at the particular variants of receptor genes these people had for the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin.Psychological Science Study: The Neurogenetics of Nice: Receptor Genes for Oxytocin and Vasopressin Interact With Threat to Predict Prosocial BehaviorIt turns out that if the receptors are especially sensitive to oxytocin and vasopressin, even people who fear others in society will do nice things, said Michael Poulin, assistant professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo and study co-author.
"We’ve found that these genes also predict people’s willingness to be nice on behalf of other people or aggressive on behalf of other people," Poulin said. In other words, such biological factors may influence your willingness to defend someone else.
That is consistent with other research, which found that rat mothers are more willing to be aggressive on behalf of pups when they received oxytocin.
However, if oxytocin and vasopressin are introduced to the body artificially they have different effects.Oxytocin, vasopressin, and their receptor genes may significantly influence prosocial behavior and may lie at the core of the caregiving behavioral system.
So I guess people can't be "made nice" by pumping them full of oxytocin and vasopressin, eh? I wonder if they thought this information could lead to the hormonal treatment of antisocial behaviors in select individuals? Maybe it can eventually, but it seems that the gene receptors are the key rather than the hormones themselves... I dunno. I'm no genetics buff.But while the hormones have similar effects on the brain, they differ in the rest of the body. Oxytocin can induce labor. Vasopressin increases when you're thirsty and prevents the formation of urine.