Massage therapists are oftentimes perceived as being kind and caring individuals, dedicated to assisting their fellow human beings. New research indicates an “altruism gene” may predispose some people to helping others.
Researchers from the University of Bonn, Germany, set out to determine if genetics might be responsible for our desire to do good things for other people.
According to the study, a minute change in a particular gene is associated with a significantly higher willingness to donate. People with this change gave twice as much money on average to a charitable cause as did other study subjects.
The researchers working with the psychologist Professor Dr. Martin Reuter invited their students to take a retention test: The roughly 100 participants were asked to memorize series of numbers and then repeat them as correctly as possible, according to a university press release.
The study participants received the sum of five Euros for doing this. Afterward, they could either take their hard-earned money home or donate any portion of it to a charitable cause. This decision was made freely and in apparent anonymity.
“However, we always knew how much money was in the cash box beforehand and could therefore calculate the amount donated,” explains Reuter.
The scientists had asked their study subjects to undergo a cheek swab beforehand. They were able to extract DNA for genetic analyses from the cells thus sampled. In these analyses, they focused on one gene, the so-called COMT gene, the press release noted. The COMT genet contains the building instructions for an enzyme which inactivates certain messengers in the brain. The most well-known of these messengers is dopamine.
In the case of people with the COMT-Val variant, the associated enzyme works up to four times more effectively. Thus considerably more dopamine is inactivated in the brain of a person with this variant.
“Students with the COMT-Val gene donated twice as much money on average as did fellow students with the COMT-Met variant”, explains Reuter. This is the first time that researchers have been able to establish a connection between a particular gene and altruistic deeds. However, it was already known from studies on twins that altruistic behavior is also partly influenced by our genes.
The results have been published in the journal Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience.