Researchers have found that people with a genotype associated with higher social anxiety are less likely to engage in prosocial behavior, such as volunteering and helping others.
Helping these individuals cope with their anxiety may increase their prosocial behavior, said Gustavo Carlo, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Missouri’s College of Human Environmental Sciences.
“Prosocial behavior is linked closely to strong social skills and is considered a marker of individuals’ health and well-being,” he said. “Social people are more likely to be healthier, excel academically, experience career success and develop deeper interpersonal relationships that may help alleviate stress.”
“Previous research has shown that the brain’s serotonin neurotransmitter system plays an important role in regulating emotions,” added study co-author Scott Stoltenberg, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“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.
“Studies like this one show that biological factors are critical influences on how people interact with one another.”
Carlo suggests that helping nervous individuals cope with their social anxiety through targeted efforts, such as encouragement, support, counseling and medication, could help them engage in more prosocial behavior.
“Some forms of anxieties can be very debilitating for individuals,” Carlo said. “When people have severe levels of social anxiety, such as agoraphobia, which is the fear of public places and large crowds, they will avoid social situations altogether and miss the prosocial opportunities.”
Carlo noted it is difficult to distinguish how much of prosocial behavior is based on learned environmental behavior and how much is biologically based.
“The nature-versus-nurture debate is always interesting,” he said. “However, I think that in our contemporary models of human behavior, we are beginning to understand the interplay between biology and the environment.”
This article first appeared on Psych Central on 16 October, 2013.