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Associations between Oxytocin Receptor Gene Polymorphisms, Empathy towards Animals and Implicit Associations towards Animals

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3 JG, UK
Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, Penicuik EH25 9RG, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2018, 8(8), 140;
Received: 26 July 2018 / Revised: 9 August 2018 / Accepted: 12 August 2018 / Published: 14 August 2018
Oxytocin is a hormone which acts as a neurotransmitter has been associated with a wide range of human social behaviours. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) have been described to be involved with human-human empathy, however little is known about OXTR SNPs and human-animal empathy and spontaneous reactions towards animals. This has been investigated in the present study with 161 British students and five extensively studied OXTR SNPs. Validated, standardized measures for empathy towards animals and spontaneous reactions towards animals have been employed. Results indicate that females show higher levels of empathy and have more positive reactions towards animals than males. Furthermore, empathy towards animals was associated with the absence of the minor A allele on OXTR SNP rs2254298. These results indicate that OXTRs play a role not only for human social behaviours but also for human-animal interactions.
Oxytocin has been well researched in association with psychological variables and is widely accepted as a key modulator of human social behaviour. Previous work indicates involvement of oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in human-human empathy, however little is known about associations of OXTR SNPs with empathy and affective reactions of humans towards animals. Five OXTR SNPs previously found to associate with human social behaviour were genotyped in 161 students. Empathy towards animals and implicit associations were evaluated. A General Linear Model was used to investigate the OXTR alleles and allelic combinations along with socio-demographic variables and their influence on empathy towards animals. Empathy towards animals showed a significant association with OXTR SNP rs2254298; homozygous G individuals reported higher levels of empathy towards animals than heterozygous (GA). Our preliminary findings show, for the first time, that between allelic variation in OXTR and animal directed empathy in humans maybe associated, suggesting that OXTRs social behaviour role crosses species boundaries, warranting independent replication. View Full-Text
Keywords: OXTR; empathy; implicit associations; human-animal-interaction OXTR; empathy; implicit associations; human-animal-interaction
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Connor, M.; Lawrence, A.B.; Brown, S.M. Associations between Oxytocin Receptor Gene Polymorphisms, Empathy towards Animals and Implicit Associations towards Animals. Animals 2018, 8, 140.

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