Whether you can make friends easily or shy away from people is determined by your genes

SINGAPORE: Have you ever wondered why some people enjoy social engagements while others shy away? It may be genetic, say scientists who have identified two genes that make some people more friendly by regulating the love hormone oxytocin.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore found that CD38 and CD157 genes are associated with the sociality of young individuals. They found that young adults who have higher expression of the CD38 gene as well as differences in CD157 gene sequence are friendlier and more socially adept than others. They have more close friends and show greater social skills.

CD38 and CD157 genes regulate the release of oxytocin, the paramount social hormone in humans involved in primary social behaviours such as pair-bonding, mating and child- rearing, to more sophisticated behaviours such as empathy, trust and generosity.

The team studied over 1,300 healthy young Chinese adults in Singapore in a non-clinical setting. They investigated the correlation between the expression of the CD38 gene and CD157 gene sequence, both of which have been implicated in autism studies, and an individual's social skills as captured by three different questionnaires.

These questionnaires evaluated the participants' overall ability to engage in social relationships; their value on the importance of and interest in friendships as well as the number of close friends/confidants they have. "We believe that studying the expression of genes captures more information than simple structural studies of DNA sequence since it is the expression of genes that ultimately determine how a gene impacts our traits," said Professor Richard Ebstein from NUS.

"Oxytocin plays an important role in these behaviours so it made good sense to our team to study the oxytocin network in relation to social skills important for friendships," said Ebstein. The results from the study showed that participants with higher expression of CD38 have more close friends, and this association was observed more prevalently among the male participants.

The findings from the study help deepen the understanding of the relationship between human sociability and oxytocin. By releasing the social hormone, the CD38 and CD157 genes not only regulate social life at a cellular level but also contribute to the development of human social skills important in establishing social bonds and friendship.

 

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