Empathy is the ability of an individual to identify intentions, feelings, thoughts, and desires of another individual, and responding to it.
Hence, it is considered to be vital for prosocial behavior and social cognition.
A large study was conducted by researchers from The University of Cambridge with considerable support from 23andMe researchers.
Around 46,000 23andMe customers who consented to the study, completed an online survey which was used to evaluate their Empathy Quotient (EQ).
There are two types of empathy:
Cognitive empathy, which is the capacity to identify the thoughts and feelings of another individual, while affective empathy is the capacity to respond accordingly.
Here are five key finds about empathy genes and their impact on health and well being:
- Empathy is heritable
You may have always felt this, innately identifying a family that may seem more empathetic.
Now, a scientific study could back you up.
This study identified certain genetic variants that could contribute to empathy.
While the study did not identify all the genes associated with empathy, the identified variants were found to contribute to 11% variability.
Before this study, empathy was considered to be a factor that was learned or taught by the social situation that a child grew up in.
Instead, this study showed that there was a genetic factor associated with empathy.
So, how will finding out about your empathy genes help? Read on to find out.
- Will your gender matter in how empathetic you are?
Among the 46,861 23andme participants who were included in the study, 24,543 were female while 22,318 were male.
When male and female samples were analyzed separately, women were found to have higher EQ than men.
However, a sex-stratified analysis did not provide a genetic association, indicating that non-genetic factors played a role in this difference.
- How is empathy associated with risk of autism?
This study showed that a low EQ score was associated with an increased risk of autism.
Multiple studies support this and have shown that when self-reported empathy was low, there was an increased risk of autism (Baron-Cohen et al., 2004 and 2014).
This could be due to a struggle in identifying thoughts and feelings of other individuals rather than problems in responding.
The sex-specific analysis showed that there was a significant genetic association between EQ and autism among men, than among women.
- Is there a higher risk of Schizophrenia? Empathy and risk of schizophrenia
The study found a significant genetic association between EQ and schizophrenia.
Previous scientific studies have also shown that reduction in cognitive empathy, but healthy or stronger affective empathy was associated with schizophrenia.
The study results suggest that genetic variants that were associated with self-reported empathy had a moderately increased risk of schizophrenia.
- Are you more likely to suffer from anorexia if you are a woman?
This 23andme study also showed that genetic variants for self-reported empathy were associated with a slight increase in the risk for anorexia nervosa.
An earlier study (Warrier et al., 2017) also showed a genetic association between cognitive empathy and anorexia nervosa.
Further, the current study showed that there was a significant genetic association between EQ in women and anorexia.
How can you find out your genetic risk for empathy?
Upload your 23andme, Ancestry DNA or FTDNA raw data to find out if you have the genetic variants associated with increased risk of empathy, available as a part of our Traits and Personality Report.
What can you do with this information?
Xcode Life’s Traits and Personality Report is about self-empowerment through self-awareness.
For example, people with a higher genetic score for angry temperament can take measures to actively prevent angry outbursts, once they understand that this tendency is innate.
A high genetic risk score for alcoholism could be used to prevent overuse.
Most people are usually aware of their innate instincts.
However, a personality genetic report can reveal several such aspects that people are generally unaware.
Xcode Life’s Trait and Personality Report provides information on extraversionness, intelligence, entrepreneurship potential and more than 25 such traits. You can find out more about it here.