Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Empathy – genetic contribution demonstrated

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-02-12

Maybe the bastard in a mafia family is the nice guy!  That’s the possibility raised by doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004387, "Empathy Is Moderated by Genetic Background in Mice" PLoS ONE 4(2): e4387 by Chen Q, Panksepp JB, Lahvis GP (2009-02-11)

The picture shows how the cages were set up… mice could hear a signal and see a mouse on the other side of the cage that was stressed on the cue.  The researchers found that mice are responsive to environmental cues that predict social distress, that their heart rate changes when distress vocalizations are emitted from conspecifics, and that genetic background substantially influences the magnitude of these responses, which include a "freezing" response.

They tested two different strains of mice, one strain known as gregarious, "C57BL/6J (B6)" and another considered less sociable, "BALB/cJ (BALB)".

Sure enough… statistical difference.

Pre-exposure to object distress increased the freezing responses of B6 mice, but not BALB mice, on both the CS-only and the CS-UCS trials.  These physiological and behavioral responses of B6 mice to social distress parallel features of human empathy.  Our paradigm thus has construct and face validity with contemporary views of empathy, and provides unequivocal evidence for a genetic contribution to the expression of empathic behavior.

I’m arrogant enough to look at my daughter and grandson and suspect any "empathy" gene in humans, if Mendelian, is dominant…. but don’t tell the ex that!


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