The association between oxytocin receptor gene polymorphism (OXTR) and trait empathy

J Affect Disord. 2012 May;138(3):468-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.01.009. Epub 2012 Feb 20.


Background: Oxytocin exerts well accepted effects on one of the key social processes: empathy. Previous researches have demonstrated that oxytocin promotes emotional and cognitive aspects of empathy, by exogenous administration as well as on gene level. However, the effect of diverse gene locus haplotypes of oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) on trait empathy lacks reliable evidence.

Methods: Participants consisted of 101 genetically unrelated, non-clinical Chinese subjects (46 males and 55 females). Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) was applied to measure the trait empathy from four dimensions: empathy concern, personal distress, perspective taking and fantasy. Fantasy and perspective taking measured cognitive aspect of empathy, while empathy concern and personal distress measured emotional aspect of empathy. Ten single tagging SNPs on OXTR rs2268491, rs1042778, rs53576, rs7632287, rs2254298, rs13316193, rs237897, rs237887, rs4686302, and rs2268493 were tested.

Results: Genotype difference in emotional empathy was found on rs237887 and rs4686302 whereas cognitive empathy varied on SNPs rs2268491 and rs2254298 between homozygous and variant carriers. For IRI score, there is a genotype and gender interaction on rs4686302 and rs13316193.

Limitation: The sample sizes from the current study were not so optimal that these results should have to be interpreted with caution when amplified into a larger population.

Conclusion: The findings demonstrate that natural variants of OXTR associated with trait empathy; specifically, individuals with certain OXTR genotype did perform better on trait empathy, while others did not. Our findings also provide genetic evidence for gender-related difference on empathy, indicating the popular fact that females who displayed more empathy than males could be likely to trace back to the genetic variants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Empathy / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, Oxytocin