Andy’s Quick Hits (233): Unique Social Genes in Human Beings

Andy Hab
2 min readJun 14, 2022

One differentiating factor with human beings is our pro-sociality. This means we are a social species, and this sociality is seen in our ability to empathise, be socially tolerant, but also in our cooperation, and altruism.

The question then comes: what drives this behaviour and is this really different to other species?

The second question is whether this is also different to other earlier human forms such as Neanderthals and Denisovans.

To find that out researchers at the University of Barcelona did a genetic analysis of non-human primates such as chimpanzees and bonobos and also archaic humans.

How did they do this?

First off, they focused on genes that they know contribute to this pro-sociality. We know that these come along two pathways and are related to Oxytocin and Vasopressin — both of these hormones are heavily involved in various social behaviours such as friendship and romantic bonding, but also trust and loyalty.

Next was to identify functional sites of these genes and to see, compared to other species, and archaic humans, if there were any differences.

What did they find?

They found, first, differences to modern and archaic human beings and non-human primates showing that various social functions seem to be different in modern or archaic humans.

Second, they found that there are two sites whereby modern human beings differ to archaic human beings showing that our sociality has also developed over time. It suggests that modern human sociality is much higher, or more advanced, and this is also likely one of the reasons why modern human beings have evolved and possible outcompeted other earlier human lines.

Third, these sites are also regions that are active in the brain particularly an area called the cingulate cortex which is a site that is associated with multiple social processing networks in the brain but also social deficits.

Human being, social being

So, all in we can see that human beings are social like many species, but that we differ in genetic expression to non-human primates but…

Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!