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Being nice may be in your genes, according to study


(CBS News) Being a nice person isn't just because of how your mother raised you: It might be coded into your genes.

A new study, out in the April issue of  Psychological Science, shows that people who have certain types of oxytocin and vasopressin receptor genes were more likely to be generous when coupled with that person's outlook on the world.

Past research has shown that oxytocin and vasopressin promote more charitable behavior. Oxytocin has even been called the "love drug" or the "cuddle chemical" and has been known to create mothering behavior, according to Dr. Michel Poulin, professor of psychology at the University of Buffalo, who led the study. The study also pointed out that oxytocin can influence generosity in economic ways, as well as increase empathy and improve interactions with close people. Vasopressin has also been tied to making people more economically generous and make men more likely to bond with another person.

For the study, Poulin's team administered an online survey about an individual's attitude toward civic duty, other people, charitable activities, and the world at large. Then saliva samples were taken from 711 subjects to see what version of the oxytocin and vasopressin receptor genes they had.

The study revealed that the genes - coupled with how positive the person viewed the world  - tended to relate to nice behavior in participants. Poulin said the "nicer" gene might help people overcome their fears of the world, making them more likely to help others in spite of those fears. Interestingly enough, those that thought the world was a cruel place but had the right receptor genes to be kind tended to still be generous.

"For people with the "nicer" versions of the genes we identified (i.e., the versions linked to more prosocial behavior in past research), there was no effect of having a positive worldview," Poulin told HealthPop by email. "In other words, individuals with the so-called "nicer" versions of these genes were equally generous no matter what they believed about the goodness of other people."

But, the study doesn't mean that we can swab saliva from our dates to tell if they are a genuinely nice person - yet. Poulin cautions that they haven't found the niceness gene, just something that contributes to making a person benevolent. He told HealthPop that overall, your view of the world was the bigger factor that your genes, but there was a clear influence depending on your receptors.

"All other things being equal, we're more likely to give to others when we think others are good and trustworthy than when we think others are mean and selfish," he told HealthPop by email.

In the future, Poulin told HealthPop he wants to find out if these "nice" genes have any affect on health and what other behaviors the genes may predict.

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