Feeling others’ pain. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
Oxytocin is a brain chemical that affects how empathetic and sociable we are. Oregon State University scientists report that volunteers watching a silent video of twenty-three couples sharing painful memories were able to spot people with a gene that makes them respond most strongly to oxytocin. Since a weaker version of the oxytocin gene may be involved in autism, the researchers think the work could lead to better understanding and perhaps treatment of autism and other conditions that affect people’s ability to connect with others.
In other empathy research, University of Gothenburg researchers in Sweden report that watching a video of a hand being caressed fires the same neural pathways in the brain as actually being caressed. Viewing an inanimate object being caressed had no such effect—more evidence that our brains have pathways that allow us to literally feel what others are feeling. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.