A new study has discovered a genetic variant of cognitive empathy, suggesting that your genes could make you a mind reader. The ability to read people’s faces, feelings, and even minds is not as far fetched as it might seem, with new data suggesting this critical social skill of cognitive empathy could be wired into our DNA.
As social beings, empathy is so important to maintaining social bonds and our survival that it makes sense it is a cognitive skill preserved genetically. Yahoo asked me to weigh in on some implications of these new data, and I was happy to help.
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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist who did not work on the study, tells Yahoo Beauty that, from a purely evolutionary and biological standpoint, she’s not surprised that women might be better able to detect another person’s emotions by looking in their eyes. “Women have to understand their babies non-verbally — babies don’t talk,” she explains. “Moms have to figure out what they need without them being able to tell you, by watching them and reading their face.” Clark calls this visual empathy “biological and a necessity” for women.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that men can’t be “mind-readers” as well — the innate ability just may be stronger in women. “This is not to say that men don’t need empathy, but from an anthropological perspective, women are biologically designed to care-take,” Clark says.
It’s possible to undergo genetic testing to see if you possess this mind-reading gene variant, but it may be simpler than that; If you’re able to read someone’s emotions well without talking, you may possess this gene variation. “When you can understand how someone is feeling, feel their experience, or simply feel compassion, you have empathy,” Clark says. “While it may be more honed for some, all of us have empathy skills. As social creatures, empathy is a critical element of needed connection and is therefore paramount to survival.”