The flood of research on oxytocin doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon! (And we couldn’t be happier about it.) Just yesterday, CNN reported on a new study from Oregon State University, which seemed to indicate that empathy and social skills are strongly influenced by variations in an oxytocin receptor gene.
In the study, OSU scientists swabbed saliva from one partner in each of 23 couples they’d recruited, in order to test for their variant of the gene. They then videotaped them listening as their partner described a difficult time in their lives. Next, the scientists played the videos, muted, for another group of 116 people. They asked this group to rate the recorded partners on kindness, caring, and trustworthiness based solely on body language.
The gene in question can manifest in any of “GG,” “GA,” or “AA” variants. Six out of the 10 partners judged “most prosocial” were found to possess the “GG” genotype for the receptor gene; 9 of the 10 “least trustworthy” partners were found to possess at least one “A” variant.
This is not the first study to implicate this receptor gene in social matters. Previous studies have suggested that the GG genotype makes it more likely that a person will possess high self-esteem; studies also suggest that people with the other genotypes are less adaptive to stress, show greater likelihoods of developing autism-spectrum disorders, and have worse mental-health outcomes.
It is important to note that the gene variations don’t ensure that anyone will have great social skills; nor do they doom anyone to social obscurity. After all, 4 of the 10 social butterflies in the study had at least one A variant of the gene. It’s likely that environmental factors—”nurture”—play a similarly large role in mediating social skill. Our bet is that conditioning the oxytocin response via cuddling might have something to do with it… and so, of course, our prescription for a better life has not changed. In fact, we’re only more adamant than ever before. Cuddle on, everyone!