The science of caring: is it genetic?

Posted in: Blog | 18 Aug 2017

At CHARLTON BROWN®, we believe that everyone has fundamental rights and needs to be met to be able to participate in a dignified life. Without well-educated and quality carers, the most vulnerable people in our society are put at risk. When people are cared for with dignity and given the respect they deserve, we help to build caring communities and better societies overall.

Aside from having the right skills, knowledge and qualifications to work in the care sector, what are the actual attributes that make a good carer? We know that care in its essence is about compassion, so is there a way of measuring our compassion as individuals? Do some people have more capability to care than others, or is it something we all possess?

Like many aspects of our complicated human lives, researchers have been looking in to compassion for decades to find out what it is exactly, and where it comes from.  The scientific explanation for compassion has been described as the emotional response we experience when we see others suffering and we have an authentic desire to help.

There is a theory that some people are more likely to care for others, especially when no one else will. Scientists have uncovered evidence for why some people are more genetically inclined to be compassionate than others. It’s been said that people who are more caring and trustworthy apparently share a common gene variation that’s linked to the receptor for oxytocin, which plays a vital role in the formulation of social bonds and ultimately impacts a person’s capacity for empathy.

Research has shown that people with two G variants of this gene are perceived to be more compassionate and generally more caring, compared to those who have at least one A variant. One study involved 23 couples (46 people total) who were identified as either GG, AG or AA. The couples were filmed describing a painful experience to their significant other. Outside observers were then asked to rate each participant on how supportive, caring and trustworthy they seemed.

The study ultimately found the individuals who received the highest ratings for compassion, trustworthiness and empathy shared the GG genotype. This suggests we’re also quite good at figuring out if someone is trusting and caring. Another piece of research also found that individuals with the GG genotype are more altruistic and more likely to give to charity.

So, does that mean that some people are destined to be carers and others aren’t? Not necessarily as there’s much more at play than just genetics. For instance, research has been undertaken on people who’ve come from extremely violent and uncompassionate backgrounds such as gangs, militias and violent religious extremist groups. By looking at individuals who leave these groups and volunteer their time to helping others afterwards, researchers said there was no common biological, social or environmental factor that led these people to becoming more compassionate, as it was seemingly their individual choice that led them to be more caring.

If all of us have the choice to be more compassionate, the great news is there’s plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that caring for others provides us with great mental, physical and spiritual benefits. People who work in compassionate fields such as healthcare and social assistance have been found to be more proactive in helping others whenever they have an opportunity. They also report lower levels of depression, improved immune responses and above-average levels of all-around happiness.

Whether you’ve always been caring or you feel like you’d like to be more compassionate to others, careers in caring across early childhood education and care, aged care, disability care and community services offer great job security as well as a wide variety of rewarding roles. Get in touch with us today to find out how you can unlock your compassionate side by becoming a Care Crusader.

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