Niceness goes all the way down to the DNA level

There are two hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, that generally make us more sociable, more caring, and just generally nicer. But now scientists have taken this a step further by finding the specific genetic receptors that make these hormones so effective.

A team of researchers at the University of Buffalo and UC Irvine looked at how 711 experimental subjects perceived the world, and how this tied in with their particular genes. The psychologists asked the participants how they felt about other people, the general nature of the world, and matters of civic duty like paying taxes or reporting crimes. They also took saliva samples so that they could conduct DNA analyses of all the participants, specifically their type of genetic receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin.

As lead researcher Michel Poulin explains, certain genes seemed to make people nicer, even if their personal outlook wasn't particularly pleasant:

"The study found that these genes combined with people's perceptions of the world as a more or less threatening place to predict generosity. 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 [These genes] allow you to overcome feelings of the world being threatening and help other people in spite of those fears."

As Poulin is quick to point out, this isn't an actual "niceness gene" they're talking about. Rather, these particular genetic receptors serve as a sort of booster system to explain why some people are more socially generous than others, even if both might admit to similar fears and concerns about the world around them. Indeed, in this case, it's seems that it's actually the very presence of those fears about the world that makes these genetic receptors nudge people towards helping out, as the researchers didn't observe these genetic receptors having the same effect in those already well-disposed to the world around them. For more, check out the University of Buffalo website.

Original paper Psychological Science. Image by zentilia, via Shutterstock.