A Lab Test for Niceness? It Could Happen
Imagine this: You're single and you finally find Mr. Right.... Or so you think. He seems nice, but is he for real? You've been there before - on the brink of romance, ready to commit, only to realize that Mr. Nice Guy is a two-timing louse. Can you trust your instincts this time?
Researchers at the University of Buffalo and the University of California may have discovered a way to hedge your bet that your choice of romantic partners is a good one: Test his genes.
It turns out that people may be kind and generous because their genes predispose them to it. In fact, if your honey tests high for the hormone oxytocin, you're in for a treat. It has been described in Science magazine as a "love drug" and a "cuddle chemical."
Michel Poulin, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at UB, is the principal author of the study "The
Neurogenics of Niceness," published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The study looked at the behavior of study subjects who have versions of receptor genes for two hormones that, in laboratory and close relationship research, are associated with niceness. Previous laboratory studies have linked the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin to the way we treat one another, Poulin says.
In fact, they are known to make us nicer people, at least in close relationships. Oxytocin promotes maternal behavior, for example, and in the lab, subjects exposed to the hormone demonstrate greater sociability.
He explains in a news release via Newswise that hormones work by binding to our cells through receptors that come in different forms. There are several genes that control the function of oxytocin and vasopressin receptors.
Of those surveyed, 711 subjects provided a sample of saliva for DNA analysis, which showed what form they had of the oxytocin and vasopressin receptors.
"The study found that these genes combined with people's perceptions of the world as a more or less threatening place to predict generosity," Poulin says. "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," he says.
These "nicer" versions of the genes, says Poulin, "allow you to overcome feelings of the world being threatening and help other people in spite of those fears.
"The fact that the genes predicted behavior only in combination with people's experiences and feelings about the world isn't surprising," Poulin says, "because most connections between DNA and social behavior are complex.
"So if one of your neighbors seems really generous, caring, civic-minded kind of person, while another seems more selfish, tight-fisted and not as interested in pitching in, their DNA may help explain why one of them is nicer than the other," he says.
"We aren't saying we've found the niceness gene," he adds. "But we have found a gene that makes a contribution."