SCIENTISTS in Scotland have uncovered a genetic difference in people who show greater compassion for animals.

The difference lies in a gene that produces the hormone oxytocin – commonly known as the love hormone – which is known to boost social bonding between people.

It is the first time the hormone has been linked to relationships between people and animals, researchers said, as they voiced hope the findings could help with the development of strategies to help improve animal welfare.

Experts at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) analysed DNA from 161 student volunteers.

The team found those who showed the greatest compassion for animals had a specific version of the oxytocin gene. They also found women responded more positively towards animals than men, as did those in a profession linked to animal care.