Hugs, and a Smile Brings Immediate Cash -- say people close
to the Zurich trust study
The research stirred misgivings about the potential for misuse by marketers or political operatives who might use oxytocin to surreptitiously capture a sales prospect or to prime a campaign crowd. The scientists acknowledged the risk but discounted the concern.
In an experiment whose results were published in the current edition of the journal Nature, researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland have determined that people who inhaled half a dozen puffs of an oxytocin nasal spray were measurably more likely to risk all their money with a stranger, without consciously knowing why.
"If I increase your level of oxytocin, I can induce you to overcome your anxiety in trusting a stranger," said a well-know Neuroeconomics professors. "It is a [biochemical] signal we induce unknowingly all the time by looking people in the eye or shaking someone by the hand." The findings have powerful implications for understanding the brain, Remove trust and you compromise love, friendship, trade and leadership."
"My conjecture is that it applies broadly to all kinds of social interactions where your trust could be abused," said economist Ernst Fehr in Zurich, the senior member of the research team.
Although the researchers set up their experiment to test the effects of oxytocin on financial decisions, they believe the hormone is the keystone of a normal social life.
Trust is as crucial in love and diplomacy as it is in finance. Social phobias, which hinge on the inability to trust other people, are the third most common mental health problem. The finding are an important advance in understanding the biology of human behavior, especially in the Art of Selling one's goods, products or services.
Researchers have long known that the hormone was important in the social behavior of animals.
Oxytocin plays a role in human childbirth, when it enhances uterine contractions during labor and may be administered to ease a difficult birth. For nursing mothers, it eases the production of breast milk.
Until now, its role in human social behavior had been a matter of conjecture.
To investigate its effects, researchers set up an experiment in which investors could choose to risk money with strangers in a classic economics investment game. The investors had to decide how much to invest without knowing anything about their trading partners.
"We were trying to understand why people are so trusting with people they have never seen and will never see again," Zak said.
In all, 178 students from universities in Zurich participated.
The students were separated into groups of investors and trustees, who were not allowed to communicate with each other.
Each investor began the experiment with a fund equal to about five Swiss francs that could be invested with a trustee. Any investment would be automatically tripled. The trustee then could decide how much, if any, of the money would be paid to the investor.
Both investor and trustee could take home cash at the conclusion of the experiment, based on how they managed the investments. The more the trustee withheld, the larger his final cash payoff. By design, the pseudo investors were caught in a dilemma of playing a game with other people's money, but so what.
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