Want to be notified when a new article is posted? Entere your email here.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Oxytocin and Trust (via Econolog)

Arnold Kling at Econolog points us to a very interesting experiment highlighted at Nature.com it was sparked by previous research (cited below) that indicates that receiving a "trust signal" increases the body's production of oxytocin):

The researchers, led by Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich, investigated whether this effect can be produced simply by getting people to inhale oxytocin rather than stimulating them to produce it. Such chemicals, they explain, can easily enter the brain when sniffed.

In the game, investors were allotted 12 monetary credits, each worth 40 Swiss centimes (32 US cents), and asked to decide how much to give to the trustee. The participants knew that the investment would be quadrupled, and that the trustee could then decide how much, if any, to hand back.

Investors were more willing to part with their cash when they inhaled the potion, Fehr's team reports in Nature1. Of 29 subjects given oxytocin, 13 handed over all of their cash. Only 6 of the 29 subjects given a placebo to sniff invested all 12 of their credits.

I Googled "oxytocin and trust", and found out that earlier research found that oxytocin levels in subjects became elevated if they were given a signal that THEY were trusted:

This is the first report that endogenous oxytocin in humans is related to social behaviors, which is consistent with a large animal literature. Subjects are put into a social dilemma in which absent communication, cooperative behavior can benefit both parties randomly assigned to a dyad. The dilemma arises because one participant must make a monetary sacrifice to signal the degree of trust in the other before the other's behavioral response is known. We show that receipt of a signal of trust is associated with a higher level of peripheral oxytocin than that in subjects receiving a random monetary transfer of the same average amount. Oxytocin levels were also related to trustworthy behavior (sharing a greater proportion of the monetary gains). We conclude that oxytocin may be part of the human physiology that motivates cooperation.
Arnold asks, "What do you think will be the first practical application of this finding". The article referenced above indicates that it might be useful in treating conditions like autism, where social bonds are hard to make (or with economics and finance faculty, for that matter).

I could also see it being used in sales or negotiating settings (or at the singles bar...).

Hey, would I steer you wrong?

No comments: