Researchers have found that around a tenth of our ability to recognise and respond appropriately to another person's thoughts and feelings comes down to our DNA. "We saw that men score, on average, 40, and women score, on average, 50".
Empathy, the trait of emotionally understanding others by placing yourself in their position, is known to have two parts: cognitive empathy and affective empathy. Genes play a key role too, according to scientists from the University of Cambridge, the Institut Pasteur, Paris Diderot University, the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and the genetics company 23andMe.
"The largest genetic study conducted on empathy, using data from more than 46,000 customers of 23andMe", according to the Pasteur Institute, who contributed to the research, has been published Monday in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
"Finding that even a fraction of why we differ in empathy is due to genetic factors helps us understand people such as those with autism who struggle to imagine another person's thoughts and feelings", said Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, of Cambridge University.
The Linkage Disequilibrium Score Regression (LDSR) was used to find genetic patterns, and to correlate any patterns with the scores from the empathy assessment.
"Genetically, [men and women] seem identical, but there is a difference in the empathy score, which is quite significant", Warrier told Live Science.
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Overall, the researchers found that about 11 percent of the differences in empathy levels in the study population can be explained by the SNP genetic variations - in other words, these variations account for about 10 percent of how empathetic you are - but these variations couldn't explain the difference between the sexes in the study.
Burgeron pointed out that "the new study shows that genes play a role in empathy, but we have not identified the specific genes involved".
It was also confirmed that the average woman has greater empathy than the average man, but not DNA, as there were no differences between the two sexes in the empathic-related genes. "It will be equally important to understand the non-genetic factors that explain the other 90 percent". Three major results emerged from the combined analysis of the test and the samples.
"Our next step is to gather larger samples to replicate these findings, and to pin-point the precise biological pathways associated with individual differences in empathy", Bourgeron said.
It was found that the degree of empathy of a person is partly due to genetic factors, about 10%.