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Niceness may be genetic, says new research

Sofi Papamarko
Shine On
April 12, 2012

Add another log to the fire of the nature vs. nurture debate.

A new study out of the University of Buffalo suggests that the kindness and generosity of a person can actually be linked to their genetic make-up.

"We aren't saying we've found the niceness gene," Michael Poulin, assistant professor of psychology at University of Buffalo and the study's principal author, tells Psych Central. "But we have found a gene that makes a contribution when certain feelings about the world around them are present."

Related: Ontario Health Study hits major milestone -- largest Canadian health study

The study surveyed 711 Americans about their attitudes relating to such things as civic duty, generosity and their personal views on the world. The researchers also took saliva samples in order to study the DNA of those surveyed and compared the results with their mentality.

Those surveyed who had versions of receptor genes for two hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, were more likely to be caring and giving in their day-to-day lives -- in other words, nicer people in general.

"Specifically, study participants who found the world threatening were less likely to help others -- unless they had versions of the receptor genes that are generally associated with niceness," Poulin tells Live Science.

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"Our findings are consistent with the possibility that oxytocin and vasopressin are part of the biological underpinnings of this caregiving system," the authors write.

So if someone is grouchy, aggressive, tight-fisted and doesn't see reason to donate to charity, it might not be because their mother didn't hug them enough -- it might just be because they don't have these particular receptor genes.

What do you think? Does it make sense that niceness is pre-determined? Can people fight against genetics when it comes to their behaviour?

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