eISSN: 2084-9885
ISSN: 1896-6764
Neuropsychiatria i Neuropsychologia/Neuropsychiatry and Neuropsychology
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vol. 14
Review article

Genetic basis of affective and cognitive empathy

Kamila Jankowiak-Siuda
Natalia Krakowska
Katarzyna Gaździcka
Jan Kundziołka
Jan Topczewski

  1. Katedra Neuropsychologii Eksperymentalnej, Wydział Psychologii, SWPS Uniwersytet Humanistycznospołeczny w Warszawie
Neuropsychiatria i Neuropsychologia 2019; 14, 3–4: 73–83
Online publish date: 2019/12/16
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In a multidimensional approach two aspects of empathy are distinguished: emotional – sharing affective states of others with concern, and cognitive – taking the perspective of others, leading to an understanding of what the other person feels.

The aim of this paper is to review the research on the genetic basis of cognitive and emotional empathy, and to indicate further directions of research in this area. The inheritance of the cognitive aspect of empathy is 0.26, and of the emotional one is 0.30. This means that to a large extent the variability of empathy is shaped by the environment. Although it is indicated that as many as 25 genes (including 37 polymorphisms) are associated with both aspects of empathy including mainly genes encoding oxytocin and vasopressin receptors, and neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, dopamine), genes encoding cannabinoids and opioids, there is still a lack of data showing how the genes influence each other, and how they interact with the environment. A group of genes involved in empathizing, closely related to the regulation of gene expression (genes encoding transcription factors, growth and development factors, e.g. BDNF) could possibly fill this gap. The expression of these genes is closely related to the plasticity of the nervous system and may have a direct relationship with the development of empathy not only in the first stages of life, but in various environmental interactions, such as parenting skills training, or educational programs for children, aimed at modeling empathic behavior.

genes, cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, environment

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