• Wed, Apr 11 2012

Like Lady Gaga, Nice Children Are Just Born This Way

Like the Lady Gaga song goes, they may be gay, straight, or bi, but children may just be born courteous and empathetic towards other people. So suggests a new study that speaks of a possible “nice gene.” Now, when people applaud your child’s kind behavior, your can also credit your DNA in addition to your stellar parenting.

Scientists have already learned that two hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, bring about the feeling of love and generosity when entering the brain. According to Livescience, these hormones bond with molecules in receptors that come in a variety of forms — and genetics can determine which type of receptors you have: the kind that bond easily producing a feeling of empathy towards your fellow man or lady, or the kind that doesn’t.

Although researchers learned that these genes “work in concert with a person’s upbringing and life experiences to determine how sociable — or anti-social — he or she becomes,” the genetic aspect to niceness just couldn’t go ignored.

In a study of 711 people which included interviews, DNA analysis, and saliva samples, the theory held up that DNA does have a pronounced significance:

Study participants who saw the world as a threatening place, and the people in it as inherently bad, were nonetheless nice, dutiful and charitable as long as they had the versions of the receptor genes associated with niceness…For oxytocin, the difference between having the “nicer” hormone receptor and the “less nice” receptor lies in a single DNA base pair located on the third chromosome. If you inherit two guanine base pairs — one from each parent — giving you a genotype represented by the letters GG, your cells build the “nicer” receptor. If you inherit an adenine base pair from either one or both parents, and have a genotype represented by either AA or AG, you land the “less nice” oxytocin receptor.

Psychologist Michel Poulin of the University of Buffalo, who led the study, commented that the relationship between social behavior and DNA is “complex.” While he doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry to directly call his findings a “nice gene,” he does find his work to have identified a strong “contribution” to kindness. And the proof is in the pudding:

For example, another study performed last year by scientists at the University of Edinburgh showed that identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, had much more similar attitudes toward civic duty and charitable activities than did fraternal twins, who had parallel upbringings but who share only 50 percent of their genes. With the new study, Poulin and his colleagues have identified the genes that they say “may lie at the core of the caregiving behavioral system.”

Bickering over who your son inherited his selfish nature from is one thing, but I wonder what these findings could potentially bring to the sperm donor world. Will couples or perhaps single ladies soon see an added column in which the donor’s courteousness is scaled from one to 10? And who will opt for a level four niceness when you can just as easily choose a level eight? And will there be a bonafide Mother Teresa brand niceness available?

(photo: Joachim Wendler/ Shutterstock)

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