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Is empathy genetic?


If you’re not empathetic, don’t feel too badly, says the London Daily Telegraph; it could be genetic. Empathy is thought to be mediated in part by oxytocin, the so-called “cuddle hormone” in the brain. Numerous studies have shown that people with elevated oxytocin levels are more generous and trusting.

In a new study, subjects were shown a series of photos of facial expressions and then asked to characterize the emotions they saw” a classic “empathy test.” The scientists found that subjects with a gene that made them more receptive to oxytocin were significantly more accurate in their assessments of other people’s feelings. The results, says Oregon State University neuropsychologist Sarina Rodrigues, suggest that “some of us have a natural capacity to be more empathic than others and that some people are more closed-off and detached.”


From The Week, “Is Empathy Genetic?” December 4, 2009

Source: London Daily Telegraph, “Empathy ‘can be inherited,'” November 17, 2009

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On Harriett's Mind

Eat, Pray, Love … Marry?

Ah, yes, Snoety’s focusing on marriage again. How could we not, with the spin on Elizabeth Gilbert’s upcoming book: “Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage” being plastered everywhere.

Note how a pal approaches the story versus a reviewer (who may or may not know Gilbert). Anne Patchett, friend and a novelist herself (“Bel Canto” among others), writes “Eat, Pray, Love, Then Commit” in The Wall Street Journal versus Ariel Levy’s review “Hitched” in The New Yorker. The WSJ space is a Q&A and, not surprisingly, gushy; The New Yorker story is a little acidic and, more informative.

I don’t think this book is for me (however, my copy of “Eat, Pray, Love” is still sitting next to my bed to read), but I learned a few things from both these articles regarding the institution of marriage. Even read some of the paragraphs to my very own. Plus that picture of Elizabeth’s husband Felipe in The Journal makes him look like a really cute guy.

Among one attention-grabber: That the term “Marriage Benefit Imbalance” is a term sociologists use when referring to the conclusion: ” … women generally lose in the exchange of marriage vows, while men win big.” They’re talking about married women being less healthy, less professionally successful, more depressed, and (until recently) more likely to die a violent death than men. There’s also a lot of history about how marriage became what we think of as, well, marriage — some of it quite surprising.

I’m thinking these articles may have revealed all the good parts. But … good to wait and see whether you think this is a “must read.” Certainly Gilbert’s celebrity and the numbers prove that “Eat, Pray, Love” was.

Click here to buy the book if you like and … let us know,


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