Can a simple hormone persuade you to act in a larger interest? According to a new study, it can!
Oxytocin is often nicknamed the ‘love hormone’ – and previous research had assumed that it led people to act in a morally correct manner. However, these observations were found to be flawed.
The former studies were conducted on animals, and showed that the hormone is interlinked with social behavior. Oxytocin was linked to traits like emotional sensitivity, and to triggers like cuddling a loved one.
But in recent research, oxytocin is found to have a negative side to it. The previous belief that it encouraged a certain kind of good or bad behavior was ruled out. Now, it is believed that the hormone makes a person act in the interests of a larger group. And the person in question would act in these interests even if there were rules barring them from doing so – they would simply break any rules!
When released, oxytocin is capable of suppressing trust and reducing cooperation. It can also trigger negative feelings. All this, just to satisfy a person’s need to work for the interest of a larger group.
This is especially dangerous because a person could become biased towards their own racial or ethnic group and engage in hate towards others.
So how was the study conducted? First, a total of 60 volunteers were asked to inhale either a snuff of pxytocin, or a placebo. Then the participants broke into teams of three people each, and played a game. The game was simple – toss a coin and predict the outcome. They were to record how many times the outcome was correct. If they scored a high number, the GROUP would be given prize money.
The basic result of the study was that every participant was dishonest. This is because all those who inhaled the placebo reported that they guessed the outcome of the coin toss correctly around 67 percent of the time. This was unlikely, since in an ideal situation there was a 50-50 chance of either outcome.
However, those who inhaled oxytocin reported a much higher accuracy – around 80 percent!
This showed that group dynamics were stronger under the influence of oxytocin.
When the researchers performed the same experiment again, they said that this time the money would be given to single players only. Now, there was no difference between the accuracy reported by those taking the placebo and the others who inhaled oxytocin.
It is important to note that the effects of oxytocin are not direct and uniform. The effects of the hormone vary depending on the situation.
When there was no prize to be won, or when the players could lose their money, there was no influence of the hormone. Also, the reported accuracy by the participants fell to the actual numbers. This is simply because humans hate the idea of loss, and so oxytocin does not influence them in this situation.
In the end, the research clearly says that oxytocin influences a person to act in the interest of a group, and this could have dangerous consequences if used in terrorist activities and hate crimes.