Oxytocin Receptor Gene Variation and Forgiveness: A Study of Traits and States

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Charlotte Witvliet, Dr. Gerald Griffin, and Dr. Lindsey Root Luna

Document Type


Event Date



Oxytocin is a neuropeptide associated with social bonding and empathy for others. In the context of interpersonal offenses, level of empathy for one’s offender is a significant predictor of granting forgiveness. This study assesses whether empathy and forgiveness-related responses vary based on genetic variations in the oxytocin receptor gene. One single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) is believed to be a factor in individual differences in the expression of empathy and other affiliative behaviors. Those with one or two copies of adenine (A) in intron 3 of the OXTR gene may have less dispositional empathy and greater stress reactivity than those homozygous for guanine (G). Our study uses a mixed design to test traits and states in 100 males and 100 females. First, we will determine the proportion of GG, AA, and AG participants. Second, using a between subjects natural groups design, we will compare GGs to A carriers for the traits of empathy, forgiveness, and the tendency to ruminate or use positive reappraisal coping styles. Third, we will test whether GG and A carriers differ in their responses to offense cognition conditions within participants. Participants each identify an unresolved interpersonal offense committed against them by someone they know. In the repeated measures design, participants are instructed to ruminate about the offense and to complete two different positive reappraisal conditions in counterbalanced orders: compassion-focused and benefit-focused reappraisal. Compassion-focused reappraisal emphasizes the humanity of the offender and how that person needed to change, whereas benefit-focused reappraisal prioritizes how the participant may have grown through facing the offense. We test whether these two natural groups (AA/AG vs. GG) differ in their response to the repeated measures conditions of positive reappraisals (versus offense rumination) for the dependent variables of state empathy, benevolence, and forgiveness, as well as unforgiveness responses of revenge and avoidance.


This research was supported by a 2015 grant from the Frost Research Center.

This document is currently not available here.