The activity of a certain gene could determine how social you are and how well you bond with others.
The OXT gene is responsible for the generation of a substance called oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” and researchers at the University of Georgia say people with lower levels of it have a harder time recognizing facial expressions and have more “anxiety about their relationships with loved ones.”
The researchers say that a process called methylation can reduce the “expression” of OXT, leading to lower oxytocin.
"Methylation restricts how much a gene is expressed," said Brian Haas, the study's lead author and assistant professor of psychology at UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "An increase in methylation typically corresponds to a decrease in the expression of a gene, so it affects how much a particular gene is functioning.
"All of our tests indicate that the OXT gene plays an important role in social behavior and brain function," Haas said.
The researchers reached their findings after assessing the social skills as well as brain structure and function of 120 people, and said further study is needed.
People with low OXT expression appeared to have lower levels of brain activity in regions associated with social cognitive processing. They also had less gray matter in the region of the brain called the fusiform gyrus, which is crucial for face processing and social cognition.
If confirmed with a larger sample, it could lead to better treatment for a myriad of behavioral and social disorders.
The study was published June 20 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.