A dose of Dan: Where’s your nice gene?

By From page A5 | April 25, 2012

New medical research studies are being announced every day. Some capture our attention more than others, like the recent study that reported drinking alcohol can make us smarter and more creative. Seriously? Other medical research studies scare us and leave us looking for shelter.

A recent study that caught my eye focused on why some people are nice and others aren’t. Admit it, we’ve all found ourselves wondering why some people are nice and others simply aren’t. We all know a person so genuinely nice that we find ourselves asking whether they are phony or not. And we’ve all run into someone so grumpy we conclude it is impossible to please them. Nice or mean, how do they become that way?

Well, according to the new study by University of Buffalo researchers, being nice could actually be part of a person’s genetic makeup. Specifically, the study suggests that a mean person may simply be equipped with the wrong hormone receptor genes.

Wait a minute, I thought as I read about the study, I have some questions. You mean the school bullies who push others around in elementary school may have genetic hormone, dare I say, flaws? Here’s what the study reported.

Two hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, inspire feelings of love and generosity in us, and they apparently bind to neurons when they flood our brains by attaching to molecules called receptors. The receptors can come in different forms, and the research indicates that nice people have certain versions of these hormone receptors while mean people have other receptor flavors.

To make the study even more dramatic, the researchers found that the receptor genes work in connection with life experiences and upbringing to determine how social or anti-social a person will become. The study reports that “nice” people are more likely to participate in civic duties, volunteer their time and donate to charities. Even if these “nice” people are concerned or threatened about issues, they are more likely to overcome their fears and still be nice.

As I dived deeper into articles on the research, I found myself possibly better understanding and further admiring the bright and shiny people we’ve all met through the years who keep smiling no matter the circumstances that come their way.

I also couldn’t help but wonder about my own genetic makeup. I’ve had my share of grumpy, cup half-empty days where trying to be nice was the last thing on my mind. Could I just have a few malcontent hormone receptor genes?

Not so fast, the researchers report. They say it’s not a “blame your DNA” situation. The study does not provide direct links. It only shows associations between genes, hormones and behaviors. And the researchers say they have more work to do as they look more closely at the issue.

So it’s probably not scientifically viable at this point to blame your genes on your grumpy behavior. But I’m sure we’ll find ourselves trying it anyway the next time we get up on the wrong side of the bed.

Dan Francisco


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