Connor, M., Lawrence, A. B., Brown, S. M. 2018. Associations between oxytocin receptor gene polymorphisms, empathy towards animals and implicit associations towards animals. Animals 8(8), 140.

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.

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