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Soc Neurosci. 2014 Feb;9(1):1-9. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2013.863223. Epub 2013 Dec 3.

Oxytocin receptor gene variation predicts empathic concern and autonomic arousal while perceiving harm to others.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of Chicago 5848 S University Avenue Chicago, IL 60637.
2
Department of Psychology, University of Chicago 5848 S University Avenue Chicago, IL 60637 kelsmith@uchicago.edu.
3
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago 5848 S University Avenue Chicago, IL 60637.
#
Contributed equally

Abstract

Recent research indicates that the neuropeptide oxytocin and the gene for the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) have been implicated in the modulation of various social behaviors, including those related to empathy and sensitivity to others. In this study, we examine the hypothesis that genetic variation in OXTR is associated with autonomic reactions when perceiving others in distress. We also explore the possibility that individual disposition in empathic concern would differ by OXTR genotype. To address these questions, 51 male participants (18-35 years of age), genotyped for OXTR rs53576, viewed a social interaction containing high levels of individual distress and apparent physical pain. Electrodermal activity, a measure of sympathetic nervous system activity, was collected during the presentation of the stimuli. Participants also completed a self-report dispositional measure of empathy prior to starting the study and provided ratings of arousal while viewing the stimuli. OXTR variant rs53576 GG individuals showed increased levels of sympathetic and subjective arousal in response to the stimuli compared to A allele carriers. GG homozygotes also expressed greater levels of empathic concern. These findings support the importance of the oxytocin receptor variation in emotional and physiological reactions to the affective experiences of other conspecifics.

PMID:
24295535
PMCID:
PMC3923324
DOI:
10.1080/17470919.2013.863223
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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