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Empathy is all in the genes

Narrator:       This is Science Today. For the first time, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have found evidence that a tendency to be more empathic and stress reactive than others may be influenced by a single gene. Psychology graduate student Laura Saslow explains that those with more empathy have a certain variation of an oxytocin receptor gene.

Saslow:           Oxytocin is a hormone. It acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and it goes in your blood, all over your body and there are receptors for it in all sorts of interesting places, including the emotional centers in the brain and the parts of your nervous system that make you less stressed. So, what we did is we looked at a variation in the oxytocin receptor gene and we looked to see if people with a ‘good version' were going to be more empathic and were they going to be less stress-reactive. And the way we decided  what was going to be good and bad was based on prior research that found that people with autism were more likely to have the ‘bad version'.

Narrator:       This doesn't mean that people who don't have the ‘good version' can't become more empathic - they may just have to work harder at it. For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.