The dark side of Oxytocin

Maat

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Regardings our behaviour, oxytocin seems to play an important role. I post 2 articles here with the back thought that it could be a good lever to be manipulated

Depth of the Kindness Hormone Appears to Know Some Bounds

Oxytocin has been described as the hormone of love. This tiny chemical, released from the hypothalamus region of the brain, gives rat mothers the urge to nurse their pups, keeps male prairie voles monogamous and, even more remarkable, makes people trust each other more.

Yes, you knew there had to be a catch. As oxytocin comes into sharper focus, its social radius of action turns out to have definite limits. The love and trust it promotes are not toward the world in general, just toward a person’s in-group. Oxytocin turns out to be the hormone of the clan, not of universal brotherhood. Psychologists trying to specify its role have now concluded it is the agent of ethnocentrism.

A principal author of the new take on oxytocin is Carsten K. W. De Dreu, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam. Reading the growing literature on the warm and cuddly effects of oxytocin, he decided on evolutionary principles that no one who placed unbounded trust in others could survive. Thus there must be limits on oxytocin’s ability to induce trust, he assumed, and he set out to define them.

In a report published last year in Science, based on experiments in which subjects distributed money, he and colleagues showed that doses of oxytocin made people more likely to favor the in-group at the expense of an out-group. With a new set of experiments in Tuesday’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he has extended his study to ethnic attitudes, using Muslims and Germans as the out-groups for his subjects, Dutch college students.

These nationalities were chosen because of a 2005 poll that showed that 51 percent of Dutch citizens held unfavorable opinions about Muslims, and other surveys that Germans, although seen by the Dutch as less threatening, were nevertheless regarded as “aggressive, arrogant and cold.”

Well-socialized Dutch students might be unlikely to say anything derogatory about other groups. So one set of Dr. De Dreu’s experiments tapped into the unconscious mind by asking subjects simply to press a key when shown a pair of words. One word had either positive or negative connotations. The other was either a common Dutch first name like Peter, or an out-group name, like Markus or Helmut for the Germans, and Ahmad or Youssef for the Muslims.

What is measured is the length of time a subject takes to press a key. If both words have the same emotional value, the subject will press the key more quickly than if the emotional overtones conflict and the mind takes longer to reach a decision. Subjects who had sniffed a dose of oxytocin 40 minutes earlier were significantly more likely to favor the in-group, Dr. De Dreu reported.

In another set of experiments the Dutch students were given standard moral dilemmas in which a choice must be made about whether to help a person onto an overloaded lifeboat, thereby drowning the five already there, or saving five people in the path of a train by throwing a bystander onto the tracks.

In Dr. De Dreu’s experiments, the five people who might be saved were nameless, but the sacrificial victim had either a Dutch or a Muslim name. Subjects who had taken oxytocin were far more likely to sacrifice the Muhammads than the Maartens.

Despite the limitation on oxytocin’s social reach, its effect seems to be achieved more through inducing feelings of loyalty to the in-group than by fomenting hatred of the out-group. The Dutch researchers found some evidence that it enhances negative feelings, but this was not conclusive. “Oxytocin creates intergroup bias primarily because it motivates in-group favoritism and because it motivates out-group derogation,” they write.

Dr. De Dreu plans to investigate whether oxytocin mediates other social behaviors that evolutionary psychologists think evolved in early human groups. Besides loyalty to one’s own group, there would also have been survival advantages in rewarding cooperation and punishing deviants. Oxytocin, if it underlies these behaviors too, would perhaps have helped ancient populations set norms of behavior.

Early religions were also involved in establishing group cohesion and penalizing offenders. Could oxytocin be involved in the social aspects of the religious experience? Dr. De Dreu sees oxytocin’s effects as being very general, and no more likely to be associated with the religious experience than with soccer hooliganism. “When people get together with others who share their values, that drives up the level of oxytocin,” he said.

For military commanders, nothing is more important than the group cohesion of their soldiers, for which oxytocin might now seem the ideal prescription. But this assumption is a bridge too far, Dr. De Dreu said, given that his findings are based only on lab experiments.

What does it mean that a chemical basis for ethnocentrism is embedded in the human brain? “In the ancestral environment it was very important for people to detect in others whether they had a long-term commitment to the group,” Dr. De Dreu said. “Ethnocentrism is a very basic part of humans, and it’s not something we can change by education. That doesn’t mean that the negative aspects of it should be taken for granted.”

Bruno B. Averbeck, an expert on the brain’s emotional processes at the National Institute of Mental Health, said that the effects of oxytocin described in Dr. De Dreu’s report were interesting but not necessarily dominant. The brain weighs emotional attitudes like those prompted by oxytocin against information available to the conscious mind. If there is no cognitive information in a situation in which a decision has to be made, like whether to trust a stranger about whom nothing is known, the brain will go with the emotional advice from its oxytocin system, but otherwise rational data will be weighed against the influence from oxytocin and may well override it, Dr. Averbeck said.

Dr. Averbeck said he was amazed that a substance like oxytocin can affect such a high-level human behavior. “It’s really surprising to me that this neurotransmitter can so specifically affect these social behaviors,” he said.

_http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/science/11hormone.html

Building Trust: Chemical Neuromarketing

Much of what we write about here at Neuromarketing is research that helps explain behavior. In other words, the neuroscientists take known human behavior and use brain imaging or other tools to help understand why that occurs. Generally, magic “buy buttons” are out of the question. Some work performed by Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University, and a team of Swiss researchers, suggests that some seemingly magical ways of influencing human behavior may yet be found.

A couple of years ago, Zak and his colleagues found that a compound found in the brain, oxytocin, can improve trust of others when sprayed into the nostrils of human subjects.

Scientists have known for years that oxytocin acts as a kind of social cement in animals. Oxytocin’s key role in the whirlwind courtship of the prairie vole — which have repeated sex for a day or so and then stay together for life — once prompted Damasio to compare the hormone to the love potion in the opera “Tristan und Isolde.”

Zak thought the chemical might be crucial not just for love, but any social exchange that requires trust.

He and his Swiss co-authors at the University of Zurich had 128 college students play a “trust game,” in which one person invests simulated money and another is the trustee. First the investor chooses how much money to give the trustee, after which the investment automatically triples. The trustee then decides how much money to give back to the investor, if any. At the end, everyone cashes in the credits for real money. The Zurich researchers gave some of the investors oxytocin — three squirts in each nostril, a dose known to increase brain levels of the hormone temporarily. Those students gave the trustees significantly more money on average than students who didn’t get oxytocin.

Nearly half of the people in the oxytocin group invested the maximum amount; in the other group only one-fifth gave the maximum investment. [From Trust Elixir a Potent Whiff]

This finding is, perhaps, a wee bit scary… If an car dealer could somehow get its customers to breathe oxytocin, would buyers suspend their natural suspicion? What about politicians? Or, along the same lines as the study, how about real investment advisers?

It’s doubtful that treating potential customers with hormones to pump up sales would be either legal or ethical, but this research does have neuromarketing significance. The findings underscore the importance of brain chemistry in consumer behavior – people think of themselves as rational, conscious decision makers, but this is one more piece of evidence showing that’s not always true.

_http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/building-trust-chemical-neuromarketing.htm
 

Gawan

Ambassador
Ambassador
FOTCM Member
Good point, cause I thought of the -danger- of oxytocin as well, as I read Sandra L. Brown book Women who love psychopaths as well, where she discusses the relationship with a psychopath and how they bond. But to conquer this argument and speaking in terms of this forum, knowledge protects and could be of help.

My two cents.
 

Divide by Zero

The Living Force
Cupid's Poisoned Arrow talks a lot about oxytocin, but with less of a negative view.

The author mentioned how the spray influenced trust. However, it was not effective in creating a long lasting bond. So the spray is not permanent. Is there any difference from marketing brainwashing to getting a spray? Probably not, both are influencing our chemicals! Perhaps that is why training for sales emphasizes a quick sale.

So, what seems to be key is to not make decisions quickly. It also reminds me of the other thread on how we need to process emotions (chemicals too?) first before we can be rational.
 

transientP

Jedi Council Member
FOTCM Member
while reading this i recalled these lyrics by Roisin Murphy,
in which she creates the word ''Oxytoxins'' and uses it instead of ''Oxytocins'';

When I think that I'm over you
I'm overpowered

Your data, my data
The chromosomes match
Exact as in matter
A matter of fact

These amourant feelings
A cognitive state
Need the love object
To reciprocate

When I think that I'm over you
I'm overpowered
It's long overdue
I'm overpowered

A chemical reason
If reason's your game
A chemical needing
Is there in the brain

With preprogrammed meanings
Like a little more pep
Alien feelings
We have to accept

When I think that I'm over you
I'm overpowered
It's long overdue
I'm overpowered

As science struggles on to try to explain
Oxytoxins flowing ever into my brain
 

Divide by Zero

The Living Force
transientP said:
while reading this i recalled these lyrics by Roisin Murphy,
in which she creates the word ''Oxytoxins'' and uses it instead of ''Oxytocins'';

When I read "Why Women Love Psychopaths" by Sandra Brown, I saw the dynamic that twists the healthy side of bonding and figured it must have been Oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone" much like the writer of this song.

However, after reading Cupid's Poisoned arrow, the dynamics involved in the WWLP book sound more like the dopamine ups and downs described that are similar to the way that addictions cause us to do things against our own logic.

A good friend had to work hard to stop contact with a pathological person in order to be able to move on. Merely talking with this person, (even in texts!) would bring the friend back into believing, even though it was not logical at all due to the past experiences. From what I have read, Oxytocin only has short term effects, but the dopamine rushes (much like explained in WWLP), cause long lasting changes like Meth addictions for example!

Mod Edit: fixed quotes
 

seek10

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Maat said:
Regardings our behaviour, oxytocin seems to play an important role. I post 2 articles here with the back thought that it could be a good lever to be manipulated

Building Trust: Chemical Neuromarketing

Nearly half of the people in the oxytocin group invested the maximum amount; in the other group only one-fifth gave the maximum investment. [From Trust Elixir a Potent Whiff]

This finding is, perhaps, a wee bit scary… If an car dealer could somehow get its customers to breathe oxytocin, would buyers suspend their natural suspicion? What about politicians? Or, along the same lines as the study, how about real investment advisers?

_http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/building-trust-chemical-neuromarketing.htm

I always appalled at the big lines at the perfume counters in big malls and huge cost of the bottles and people's willingness to buy. There are studies that proves the perfumes and scents changes the vulnerability of buyer. No wonder perfume industry is one of the industry picked up with the murder of JFK.
 

zak

Dagobah Resident
Here a video of Robert Sapolsky on oxytocin:
Robert Sapolsky has a bone to pick with oxytocin, or rather the public's perception of oxytocin. It is the love hormone, we've surely all read by now. It helps us bond to our parents, then to our lovers and later to our own children. An extra dose can increase empathy, goodwill, and understanding. But it's not all sunshine and rainbows, here's the catch: those warm fuzzy feelings are only generated for people you already favor. Oxytocin, represented more honestly, is the hormone of love and violence. Its effect in the presence of people you consider "others" is preemptive aggression, and less social cooperation. It creates distance as often as it bonds love, and we are hardwired for those social dichotomies. Humans invent "Us" and "Them" groups wherever they look, whether it's on the basis of sex, race, nationality, class, age, religion, hair color—there's nothing we won't discriminate against, and we do it within a twentieth of a second of seeing someone. Are they an "Us" or are they a "Them"? The flaw in this hardwired thinking reflex is also its silver lining: it is ridiculously easy to manipulate. A racial bias can be duped by something so simple as putting a cap with your favorite sports team's logo on someone's head, for example. You can overthrow your brain's most primal reactions in this way but, as history shows, other people can also get in your head and manipulate the Us versus Them reflex to tragic and catastrophic results. Robert Sapolsky is the author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.


Transcript:
"So when you look at us—us as humans, as apes, as primates, as mammals—when you look at some of the most appalling realms of our behavior, much of it has to do with the fact that social organisms are really, really hardwired to make a basic dichotomy about the social world, which is those organisms who count as Us’s and those who count as Thems.

And this is virtually universal among humans and this is virtually universal among all sorts of social primates that have aspects of social structures built around separate social groupings. Us’s and Thems: we turn the world into Us’s and Thems and we don’t like the Thems very much and are often really awful to them. And the Us’s, we exaggerate how wonderful and how generous and how affiliative and how just like siblings they are to us. We divide the world into Us and Them.

And one of the greatest ways of seeing just biologically how real this fault line is, is there’s this hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is officially the coolest, grooviest hormone on earth, because what everybody knows is it enhances mother-infant bonding and it enhances pair bonding in couples. And it makes you more trusting and empathic and emotionally expressive and better at reading expressions and more charitable. And it’s obvious that if you just, like, spritzed oxytocin up everyone’s noses on this planet it would be the Garden of Eden the next day.

Oxytocin promotes prosocial behavior. Until people look closely. And it turns out oxytocin does all those wondrous things only for people who you think of as an “Us”, as an in-group member. It improves in-group favoritism, in-group parochialism.

What does it do to individuals who you consider a Them? It makes you crappier to them, more preemptively aggressive, less cooperative in an economic game. What oxytocin does is enhance this Us/Them divide. So that, along with other findings—the classic lines of Us versus Them along the lines of race, of sex, of age, of socioeconomic class: your brain processes these Us/Them differences on the scale of milliseconds, a twentieth of a second, your brain is already responding differently to an Us versus Them.

Okay, so collectively this is depressing as hell. Oh my god, we are hardwired to inevitably be awful to Thems, and Thems along all sorts of disturbing lines of: "Oh, if only we could overcome these Us and Them dichotomies! Oh no, are we hardwired to divide the world along lines of race and ethnicity and nationality and all those disturbing things?" And what becomes clear is, when you look closely is: it is virtually inevitable that we divide the world into Us’s and Thems and don’t like Thems very much and don’t treat them well." ...

The rest of the transcription on the video.
 
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