Genetics and Empathy

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Source: National Public Radio - Science Friday

Date: 11/18/2011


Summary: Science Friday host Ira Flatow interviews researcher Sarina Saturn about studies looking at the human ability to recognize empathy, and whether empathic behaviors are influenced by genes.

Program Context: This news interview touches on the complex etiology of traits like empathy, involving multiple genetic and environmental contributors. Potential biological pathways underlying empathy are discussed, including the role of the neurotransmitter oxytocin in social bonding. The concept of genetic polymorphism is introduced, and the modifying influence of cultural background is also discussed.

  • Learn more about genetic polymorphisms in the learning module on Variation.
  • The various contributions of genes and environment to social and behavioral traits like empathy are explored further in the learning module on Gene-Environment Interaction.
  • Read more about the importance of understanding biological pathways to determining the function of genes in complex traits and behaviors, here and here.
  • Read more about the role of neurotransmitters like oxytocin and other biological pathways associated with behavior.
  • Linking Genes with Environment provides an example of research that examines the combined influence of genes and social environment in the study of depression.


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