There, There, Never Mind.

Yesterday’s post mentioned the rapid visual assessment of “attractiveness” from still or video images. Rapid assessment of an individual's mood is an important facility for our survival as well as our happiness. Reading body language is a skill that is deeply embedded in our past development, even though our more cerebral evaluations make us doubt our “instincts.” On the other hand, our dog is very sharp at reading the signals and if it growls, maybe we should listen.

The most recent variant on the instant assessment front is covered in a BBC report of a study in the Proceedings of The National Academy of Science by Kogan et al (1,2).  Here their “lab rats” watched silent movies of 23 couples. The main movie had one half of a couple telling the other about their hard times and the lab rats were allowed to watch for a generous 20 seconds after which they came up with a score for prosocial tendencies.

So far, so good, but where’s the real test here? Well, the film stars had their DNA laid bare. Specifically their OXTR (oxytocin receptor0r) gene, or at least parts of it. The G or A alleles of the gene were the focus. The BBC has called it the cuddle chemical (1) so the researchers are matching up the allele combinations with the perceived empathic estimates.

The top rated empathizers all had a pair of G’s, so GG means you’re one of the good guys. An AA or AG combo means, well, maybe you’re not a good listener and won’t offer a handkerchief and a cuddle, but more likely pithy advice like “get over it”.

It’s a rather scary thought that a glance at your facial expression lays bare parts of your genetic make up like it’s been tattooed on your forehead. I wonder what other behavioral/gene/body language patterns will show up next?


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