Cuddle bugs show gene for “cuddle chemical”

By Shayna Brouker • Published: February 10th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Can you tell a sensitive soul when you see one? You know the type: Always willing to lend an ear, sincerely concerned about others’ well-being and ready with a hearty hug. Valentine’s Day tends to bring out the softer side in everyone, but a new study from the University of Toronto found that in some people, the urge to snuggle is genetic. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that kind-hearted cuddle bugs, sympathetic snugglers and helpful huggers all share a genetic variation associated with the “love hormone” known as oxytocin. Oxytocin plays a role in trust, empathy and social bonding with lovers, children and family.

Researchers tested 23 couples for the GG variant of the gene, then recorded the lovebirds interacting as one of the partners talked about a trying time in his or her life. A group of more than 100 strangers then watched silent clips of the videos and evaluated the listener on how trustworthy and compassionate they seemed based on body language.

Those with the GG genetic variation were rated as more kindhearted and “prosocial” than people with the other variation. They kept eye contact, smiled and nodded throughout the conversation and had open body posture. On the contrary, those judged least empathetic had the A version of the gene, which is associated with a higher risk of autism.

It goes to show that genes may help us judge character — and that first impressions usually are right. It also sheds new light on those people who seem rather antisocial and surly. They might have been born with the A variant of the gene and just need a little help overcoming this evolutionary disadvantage. So keep that in mind next time your boss seems uncaring about your insurmountable workload or growls in response to your “Good morning.” Just smile, nod and let your inner cuddle bug shine through.