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Is Niceness In Our Genes?

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Niceness may be predicted, in part, by our genes, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the State University Of New York at Buffalo and the University of California, Irvine found that actual niceness -- defined as feelings of social responsibility and charity -- corresponded with possessing a gene that produced a certain kind of receptor for oxytocin and vasopressin -- two hormones that are linked with sociability and niceness.

"We aren't saying we've found the niceness gene, but we have found a gene that makes a contribution," study researcher Michel Poulin, Ph.D., an associate psychology professor at the University at Buffalo, said in a statement.

For the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers took saliva samples from 711 study participants, to see whether or not they had the receptor-producing genes for oxytocin and vasopressin. The study participants were surveyed about their world view -- whether the world is more good than bad, or vice versa. They were also surveyed about what they thought about civic duty (like whether you should always report a crime) and doing things for charity (like what your thoughts are on giving blood).

"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," Poulin explained the statement.

That's because these specific receptor genes likely help a person to still want to help others even if he or she feels threatened by the world, he added.

This isn't the first study to find a genetic component to virtuous attitudes and behavior. Last year, researchers from the University of Edinburgh published a study in the journal Biology Letters showing that for women especially, traits of selflessness seem to be genetic. That study included 1,000 pairs of twins (both identical and fraternal), the Daily Mail reported.

For the study, the researchers asked the study participants how likely they were to do things like pay more money to ensure access to universal medical care, ABC Science reported. The researchers found that female twins who are identical were the most likely to be generous in this circumstance.

"Having identical and non-identical twins allows you to understand whether there is a genetic factor at play," study researcher Gary Lewis told ABC Science. "Identical twins, which share 100 per cent of their genes, are more similar than non-identical twins, who share only 50 per cent. You can infer genetic influence because of that biological fact."

So if some people around you seem more generous, open and interested in helping, it could be -- at least in part -- a matter of the genes they were born with.

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