Is Being Nice All in the Genes?
Jeff Strickler, Star Tribune, Minneapolis
Posted April 24, 2012
If the researchers behind a recent report in Psychological Science are correct, Minnesota Nice isn't a result of our climate, the copious amount of fried food we consume at the State Fair or the fact that each summer we lead the nation in per capita trips "up north" to "the lake."
It's in our genes. Or so says the study, "The Neurogenics of Niceness," published earlier this month by psychology professors at the University of Buffalo in New York and the University of California, Irvine. Researchers identified receptor genes that are associated with the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. Previous studies have linked those hormones to greater sociability.
Respondents were surveyed about their willingness to participate in such things as donating blood, sitting on juries and going to PTA meetings. Then they provided saliva samples for DNA analysis. There was a high correlation between the receptor genes and the respondents' attitudes, the study found.
"We aren't saying we've found the niceness gene," wrote lead researcher Michael Poulin. "But we have found a gene that makes a contribution."
Local researchers haven't had a chance to analyze the data, so we went to someone who puts her niceness where her mouth is -- literally. Jeanette Proulx owns the Minnesota Nice Cafe in Bemidji.
While she admittedly doesn't know much about what role genes play in niceness, she is an expert on the effect that pancakes can have.
"We have some people coming in here who are pretty cranky because they're hungry," she said. "When they leave, they're happy and smiling and full of pancakes."
The pancakes come with a smile, a vital part of the niceness conversion, she said. "Joy trickles down, doesn't it?"
©2012 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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