Niceness lies in your genes: scientists

Lifestyle

Ever wondered why some people are nice and generous while others behave badly? It's because their genes may have nudged them towards developing different personalities, scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo and University of California, Irvine, found a connection between people being nice and versions of receptor genes for two hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, that have been associated with niceness in past studies.

The new research, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that if you have the genes that give you certain versions of those hormone receptors, you are more likely to be a nice person than if you have the genes for one of the other versions.

However, the researchers found that the genes work in concert with a person's upbringing and life experiences to determine how sociable -- or anti-social -- he or she becomes.

In the study, the researchers asked hundreds of people whether they have an obligation to report crimes, sit on juries or pay taxes, whether they engage in charitable activities, and whether the world is a good place or a threatening one.

Of those surveyed, 711 people provided a sample of their saliva for DNA analysis, which showed which version of the oxytocin and vasopressin receptors they had.

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.

These "nicer versions of the genes allow you to overcome feelings of the world being threatening and help other people in spite of those fears," said study author Michel Poulin of the University of Buffalo.

But with the other types of receptor genes, a negative worldview resulted in anti-social behaviour, Poulin said.

"The fact that the genes predicted behaviour only in combination with people's experiences and feelings about the world isn't surprising because most connections between DNA and social behaviour are complex," he said.

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