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Are You A Highly Sensitive Person? You May Have The Empathy Gene

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Do you cry at the drop of a hat?  Do you feel an overwhelming urge to help people in need?

You might be a highly sensitive person, genetically predisposed to empathy.

When asked if images on television pull at his heart strings, Antonio DuBose of East Flatbush told CBS 2's Vanessa Murdock, "Yes, they do, especially if they're touching, especially if they involve kids."

Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by others. It is alive and well on the streets of New York City, especially in the hearts of newlyweds Antonio and Malika DuBose.

Malika has been married just two months and said she thinks she's a highly sensitive person.

"The people on the streets that don't have nothing, I try to give them something," Malika said.

She may be a highly sensitive person -- HSP for short. You might be, too. A new study validates there is such a thing. It's a personality trait scientists just linked to brain physiology, Murdock reported.

"It really helps people who know they have it say, 'hey, I'm not just this peculiar, different person. There are others like me and there's a real physiology behind this,'" said Dr. Lucy Brown, a neuroscientist at the Einstein College of Medicine.

Brown told Murdock that newlyweds had brain scans while looking at faces of their loved ones and strangers using a functional MRI. It allows measurement of blood flow to the insular cortex -- the empathy region of the brain. The results showed that people considered HSPs showed significantly greater blood flow than non-HSPs when viewing a photo of their partner smiling.

The study shows that 20 percent of people are highly sensitive -- man or woman makes no difference, Murdock reported.

Might you have the trait?

"I am sensitive, but not highly," said Ulla Abate of Hamburg, N.J.

"Highly sensitive, hopefully in a good way," added Fiorella DiCarlo.

Experts told Murdock to consider the acronym DOES.

"D" stands for deep thinker, and "O" stands for over-stimulated -- for example, overstimulated by the busy streets & sounds of the city. "E" represents empathetic toward others and "S" stands for sensitivity to subtle stimulation.

There's one thing the highly sensitive person finds it very difficult to do -- work under pressure, Murdock reported.

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