By Kimberly Clark, Features Staff Writer
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Remember hearing that as a kid? It was the exhausted mantra of weary parents, school teachers and babysitters. All hoped that day the saying would take root in our brains and that we would actually learn to be nice. But let’s face it, some days it wouldn’t hurt if someone reminded us of it.
But do we actually learn to be nice? According to a recent study, the answer to that question might be no. It might be that some people are born nice and others are born, well, not so nice. And they all have their genes to thank for that.
Two qualities that we consider characteristic of nice people, such as love and generosity, are caused by the release of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin in the brain.
The study, led by Michel Poulin, a psychologist at the University of Buffalo, found that people who had the genes for certain types of oxytocin and vasopressin hormone receptors in their brains tended to be nicer.
Researchers asked hundreds of people their opinions on charitable acts, civic duty and the world in general, such as whether or not people would volunteer, pay their taxes, serve on juries, report crimes or donate blood.
Researchers also wanted to know if people viewed the world as mostly good or as a dangerous and threatening place.
Of those surveyed, a sample of saliva was taken from 711 of them. The samples were put through DNA analysis to determine which type of oxytocin and vasopressin receptors the people had.
Researchers found that the people with the types of receptors connected to niceness were kind and generous, regardless of their view of the world. Even if they thought the world was an evil place, they still wanted to reach out and help others.
However, the people with both a negative outlook of the world and the other types of receptors were more anti-social.
“The fact that the genes predicted behavior only in combination with people’s experiences and feelings about the world isn’t surprising because most connections between DNA and social behavior are complex,” Poulin said in a press release.
He also explained that research has not yet pinpointed the actual nice gene, just a contributing one. While our genes predispose us to either being naughty or nice, our life experiences and upbringing have the most influence.