If you have 20 seconds you may be able to decide whether a complete stranger is genetically disposed to help you out. Research looks at the accuracy of first impressions.
Do you trust your instincts about strangers? And just how do you know if you can believe your gut feelings about someone you’ve never laid eyes on before? Well, new research suggests that first impressions can be very valuable in detecting whether a stranger is genetically inclined to being trustworthy, kind, or compassionate. It’s all in your genes.
The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, investigated the ability of “naïve” subjects to identify the empathy levels of people they didn’t know.
They recruited 24 couples who provided DNA samples. While one talked and the other listened, each couple discussed experiences during which they had suffered. The researchers then showed 20-second silent video clips of the listeners to a separate group of observers who didn’t know the couples. They were asked to rate the listeners on which seemed most trustworthy, kind, and compassionate based on their facial expressions and body language.
When the researchers checked the scores, they found that the listeners who got the highest ratings for empathy had two copies of a specific variation of the oxytocin receptor gene known as the GG genotype. Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes social interaction, bonding, and romantic love.
According to the lead author, Aleksandr Kogan, “… the people who had two copies of the G version displayed more trustworthy behaviours—more head nods, more eye contact, more smiling, more open body posture. And it was these behaviours that signaled kindness to the strangers.”
Kogan did add, though, that just because a person doesn’t happen to have this specific gene it doesn't mean they can’t be empathetic. “What makes us kind and cooperative is a mixture of numerous genetic and non-genetic factors.” So don’t write off your non-GG genotype partner just yet.