University of Oulu

Dobewall H, Keltikangas-Järvinen L, Marttila S, Mishra PP, Saarinen A, Cloninger CR, Zwir I, Kähönen M, Hurme M, Raitakari O, Lehtimäki T and Hintsanen M (2023) The relationship of trait-like compassion with epigenetic aging: The population-based prospective Young Finns Study. Front. Psychiatry. 14:1018797. doi:

The relationship of trait-like compassion with epigenetic aging : the population-based prospective Young Finns Study

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Author: Dobewall, Henrik1,2; Keltikangas-Järvinen, Liisa3; Marttila, Saara4,5;
Organizations: 1Faculty of Education, VISE Research Unit, Faculty of Education and Psychology, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland
3Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
4Molecular Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
5Gerontology Research Center, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
6Fimlab Laboratories and Finnish Cardiovascular Research Center - Tampere, Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
7Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, United States
8Department of Computer Science, University of Granada, Granada, Spain
9Department of Clinical Physiology, Tampere University Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
10Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
11Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
12Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
13Centre for Population Health Research, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Frontiers Media, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-09-06


Introduction: Helping others within and beyond the family has been related to living a healthy and long life. Compassion is a prosocial personality trait characterized by concern for another person who is suffering and the motivation to help. The current study examines whether epigenetic aging is a potential biological mechanism that explains the link between prosociality and longevity.

Methods: We used data from the Young Finns Study that follows six birth-cohorts from age 3–18 to 19–49. Trait-like compassion for others was measured with the Temperament and Character Inventory in the years 1997 and 2001. Epigenetic age acceleration and telomere length were measured with five DNA methylation (DNAm) indicators (DNAmAgeHorvath, IEAA_Hannum, EEAA_Hannum, DNAmPhenoAge, and DNAmTL) based on blood drawn in 2011. We controlled for sex, socioeconomic status in childhood and adulthood, and body-mass index.

Results and discussion: An association between higher compassion in 1997 and a less accelerated DNAmPhenoAge, which builds on previous work on phenotypic aging, approached statistical significance in a sex-adjusted model (n = 1,030; b = −0.34; p = 0.050). Compassion in 1997 predicted less accelerated epigenetic aging over and above the control variables (n = 843; b = −0.47; p = 0.016). There was no relationship between compassion in 2001 (n = 1108/910) and any of the other four studied epigenetic aging indicators. High compassion for others might indeed influence whether an individual’s biological age is lower than their chronological age. The conducted robustness checks partially support this conclusion, yet cannot rule out that there might be a broader prosocial trait behind the findings. The observed associations are interesting but should be interpreted as weak requiring replication.

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Series: Frontiers in psychiatry
ISSN: 1664-0640
ISSN-E: 1664-0640
ISSN-L: 1664-0640
Volume: 14
Article number: 1018797
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1018797
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 515 Psychology
3142 Public health care science, environmental and occupational health
Funding: This study was supported financially by the Academy of Finland (MHi, grant number 308676). The Young Finns Study has been financially supported by the Academy of Finland: grants 286284, 134309 (Eye), 126925, 121584, 124282, 129378 (Salve), 117787 (Gendi), 41071 (Skidi), and 322098; the Social Insurance Institution of Finland; Competitive State Research Financing of the Expert Responsibility area of Kuopio, Tampere and Turku University Hospitals (grant X51001); Juho Vainio Foundation; Paavo Nurmi Foundation; Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research; Finnish Cultural Foundation; The Sigrid Juselius Foundation; Tampere Tuberculosis Foundation; Emil Aaltonen Foundation; Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation; Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation (TL); Diabetes Research Foundation of the Finnish Diabetes Association; and EU Horizon 2020 (grant 755320 for TAXINOMISIS and grant 848146 for AITION); and European Research Council (grant 742927 for MULTIEPIGEN project); Tampere University Hospital Supporting Foundation, The Finnish Society of Clinical Chemistry (TL).
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 308676
Detailed Information: 308676 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2023 Dobewall, Keltikangas-Järvinen, Marttila, Mishra, Saarinen, Cloninger, Zwir, Kähönen, Hurme, Raitakari, Lehtimäki and Hintsanen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.