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Oxytocin, a peptide that functions as both a hormone and neurotransmitter, has broad influences on social and emotional processing throughout the body and the brain. In this study, we tested how a polymorphism (rs53576) of the oxytocin receptor relates to two key social processes related to oxytocin: empathy and stress reactivity. Compared with individuals homozygous for the G allele of rs53576 (GG), individuals with one or two copies of the A allele (AG/AA) exhibited lower behavioral and dispositional empathy, as measured by the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” Test and an other-oriented empathy scale. Furthermore, AA/AG individuals displayed higher physiological and dispositional stress reactivity than GG individuals, as determined by heart rate response during a startle anticipation task and an affective reactivity scale. Our results provide evidence of how a naturally occurring genetic variation of the oxytocin receptor relates to both empathy and stress profiles.
What can a speech reveal about someone's state? We tested the idea that greater stress reactivity would relate to lower linguistic cognitive complexity while speaking. In Study 1, we tested whether heart rate and emotional stress reactivity to a stressful discussion would relate to lower linguistic complexity. In Studies 2 and 3, we tested whether a greater cortisol response to a standardized stressful task including a speech (Trier Social Stress Test) would be linked to speaking with less linguistic complexity during the task. We found evidence that measures of stress responsivity (emotional and physiological) and chronic stress are tied to variability in the cognitive complexity of speech. Taken together, these results provide evidence that our individual experiences of stress or "stress signatures"-how our body and mind react to stress both in the moment and over the longer term-are linked to how complex our speech under stress.
Individuals who are homozygous for the G allele of the rs53576 SNP of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene tend to be more prosocial than carriers of the A allele. However, little is known about how these differences manifest behaviorally and whether they are readily detectable by outside observers, both critical questions in theoretical accounts of prosociality. In the present study, we used thin-slicing methodology to test the hypotheses that (i) individual differences in rs53576 genotype predict how prosocial observers judge target individuals to be on the basis of brief observations of behavior, and (ii) that variation in targets’ nonverbal displays of affiliative cues would account for these judgment differences. In line with predictions, we found that individuals homozygous for the G allele were judged to be more prosocial than carriers of the A allele. These differences were completely accounted for by variations in the expression of affiliative cues. Thus, individual differences in rs53576 are associated with behavioral manifestations of prosociality, which ultimately guide the judgments others make about the individual.