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An 'empathy gene' has broad clinical implications

This is Science Today. A recent discovery that our genes predict our capacity to show empathy and handle stress has broad clinical implications. Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley explains that people who are more empathic were found to have a variation of an oxytocin receptor gene. Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes social interaction, including bonding and romantic love.

Keltner:            When you put these findings that this oxytocin receptor gene on the third chromosome predicts problems handling stress and problems reading other people's emotions and you combine that with one of the studies showing it links up to autism, one of the obvious clinical implications is that we can start to identify really stressed-out kids and kids that may be later diagnosed as Asperger's kids really early in life. And what we know from dozens of clinical studies is that the earlier you intervene, the better you do. We can, in effect, overcome that genetic propensity. So, clinically, this is really important for working with kids with different kinds of disorders.

Narrator:       For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.