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      Oxytocin receptor genetic variation relates to empathy and stress reactivity in humans.

      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

      Emotions, Empathy, genetics, Female, Genotype, Humans, Male, Polymorphism, Genetic, Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide, Receptors, Oxytocin, Young Adult, Social Perception, Stress, Physiological

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          Abstract

          Oxytocin, a peptide that functions as both a hormone and neurotransmitter, has broad influences on social and emotional processing throughout the body and the brain. In this study, we tested how a polymorphism (rs53576) of the oxytocin receptor relates to two key social processes related to oxytocin: empathy and stress reactivity. Compared with individuals homozygous for the G allele of rs53576 (GG), individuals with one or two copies of the A allele (AG/AA) exhibited lower behavioral and dispositional empathy, as measured by the "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" Test and an other-oriented empathy scale. Furthermore, AA/AG individuals displayed higher physiological and dispositional stress reactivity than GG individuals, as determined by heart rate response during a startle anticipation task and an affective reactivity scale. Our results provide evidence of how a naturally occurring genetic variation of the oxytocin receptor relates to both empathy and stress profiles.

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          Most cited references 42

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          Oxytocin increases trust in humans.

          Trust pervades human societies. Trust is indispensable in friendship, love, families and organizations, and plays a key role in economic exchange and politics. In the absence of trust among trading partners, market transactions break down. In the absence of trust in a country's institutions and leaders, political legitimacy breaks down. Much recent evidence indicates that trust contributes to economic, political and social success. Little is known, however, about the biological basis of trust among humans. Here we show that intranasal administration of oxytocin, a neuropeptide that plays a key role in social attachment and affiliation in non-human mammals, causes a substantial increase in trust among humans, thereby greatly increasing the benefits from social interactions. We also show that the effect of oxytocin on trust is not due to a general increase in the readiness to bear risks. On the contrary, oxytocin specifically affects an individual's willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions. These results concur with animal research suggesting an essential role for oxytocin as a biological basis of prosocial approach behaviour.
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            The Empathy Quotient: An Investigation of Adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, and Normal Sex Differences

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              Social support and oxytocin interact to suppress cortisol and subjective responses to psychosocial stress.

              The presence of social support has been associated with decreased stress responsiveness. Recent animal studies suggest that the neuropeptide oxytocin is implicated both in prosocial behavior and in the central nervous control of neuroendocrine responses to stress. This study was designed to determine the effects of social support and oxytocin on cortisol, mood, and anxiety responses to psychosocial stress in humans. In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 37 healthy men were exposed to the Trier Social Stress Test. All participants were randomly assigned to receive intranasal oxytocin (24 IU) or placebo 50 min before stress, and either social support from their best friend during the preparation period or no social support. Salivary free cortisol levels were suppressed by social support in response to stress. Comparisons of pre- and poststress anxiety levels revealed an anxiolytic effect of oxytocin. More importantly, the combination of oxytocin and social support exhibited the lowest cortisol concentrations as well as increased calmness and decreased anxiety during stress. Oxytocin seems to enhance the buffering effect of social support on stress responsiveness. These results concur with data from animal research suggesting an important role of oxytocin as an underlying biological mechanism for stress-protective effects of positive social interactions.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                19934046
                2795557
                10.1073/pnas.0909579106

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