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Genetic Susceptibility To Social Anxiety May Affect Prosocial Behavior In Some

Update Date: Oct 16, 2013 11:03 AM EDT

Some individuals are more genetically prone to experience prosocial behavior than others. Volunteering and helping others may not be an easy task for those others because of a gene that might make them inclined to develop an anxiety disorder, according to a new study. 

"Prosocial behavior is linked closely to strong social skills and is considered a marker of individuals' health and well-being," said Gustavo Carlo, Millsap Professor of Diversity in MU's College of Human Environmental Sciences in a news release. "Social people are more likely to be healthier, excel academically, experience career success and develop deeper interpersonal relationships that may help alleviate stress."  

According to the study's co-author Scott Stoltenberg, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, research has previously shown that the brains serotonin neurotransmitter is an important place where the regulation of emotions occurs. 

"Our findings suggest that individual differences in social anxiety levels are influenced by this serotonin system gene and that these differences help to partially explain why some people are more likely than others to behave prosocially," said Stoltenberg. "Studies like this one show that biological factors are critical influences on how people interact with one another." 

Researcher Carlo recommends that through encouragement, support, counseling and medication, individuals with social anxiety disorders could eventually overcome the stress they feel from engaging in a social setting such as volunteering. 

According to the research, it is not yet known how much of prosocial behavior is linked to learned environmental behavior and how much is biological. 

"Much of Carlo's previous study on prosocial development has focused on how environmental influences, such as family relationships, influence prosocial behavior," according to MU. "This study brings researchers closer to understanding the effect that individuals' biological makeup has on their behaviors."

The findings are published in the journal Social Neuroscience.

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