Oxytocin receptor and vasopressin receptor 1a genes are respectively associated with emotional and cognitive empathy

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Abstract

Empathy is the ability to recognize and share in the emotions of others. It can be considered a multifaceted concept with cognitive and emotional aspects. Little is known regarding the underlying neurochemistry of empathy and in the current study we used a neurogenetic approach to explore possible brain neurotransmitter pathways contributing to cognitive and emotional empathy. Both the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) and the arginine vasopressin receptor 1a (AVPR1a) genes contribute to social cognition in both animals and humans and hence are prominent candidates for contributing to empathy. The following research examined the associations between polymorphisms in these two genes and individual differences in emotional and cognitive empathy in a sample of 367 young adults. Intriguingly, we found that emotional empathy was associated solely with OXTR, whereas cognitive empathy was associated solely with AVPR1a. Moreover, no interaction was observed between the two genes and measures of empathy. The current findings contribute to our understanding of the distinct neurogenetic pathways involved in cognitive and emotional empathy and underscore the pervasive role of both oxytocin and vasopressin in modulating human emotions.

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