The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'oxytocin'
New research has shown that oxytocin, the neurochemical which promotes feelings of love and trust, also induces racism, or to be more precise, sharper discrimination against those ethnically or culturally different from oneself and one's group:
When asked to resolve a moral dilemma, such as choosing to save five lives from a runaway train by sacrificing one life, oxytocin-sniffing Dutch men more often saved fellow countrymen over Arabs and Germans than those who didn’t get a hormonal whiff.
“Earlier research of oxytocin paints a very rosy view of it. We thought it was odd a neurological system that survived evolution would make people indiscriminately loving toward others,” said social psychologist Carsten De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam, co-author of a Jan. 10 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Under oxytocin we saw an increase of in-group favoritism, which has the downside of discrimination against people who are not part of your group.”The questions this raises are interesting. In modern Western society at least, the idea of love is almost a secular religion; it is seen as an unequivocally positive phenomenon, whose only fault is that it is, alas, not everywhere, not washing over everyone and making everything alright. Anyone who dissents from this opinion must be some kind of pitiably twisted curmudgeon; entire subgenres of Hollywood romantic comedies have been made about such sourpusses seeing the light and gaining a new faith in the redeeming power of love, replete with montage sequences. But if the biological conditions underlying the phenomena of love also measurably amplify less positive tendencies, such as reducing empathy to those outside of one's in-group, could love follow religion into becoming something once seen as universally good that has been subjected to more radical reassessment? Perhaps, in future, we'll see the same rational scepticism that has been applied to the virtue of religious faith applied to the universal beneficience of love?
The next trend in lifestyle-enhancing medication could be oxytocin inhalers. The hormone enhances trust, confidence and sociability and can be nasally delivered, making it an instant treatment for the symptoms of everything from autism to anxiety disorders.
Of course, since oxytocin makes people more trusting, it could also be used surreptitiously to obtain compliance from unwitting parties, for anything from sex to salesmanship to outright robbery.
Scientists in Zurich have found that dosing people with oxytocin (aka the "cuddle hormone", associated with makes them pathologically trusting:
"Of course, this finding could be misused," said Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich, the senior researcher in the study, which appears in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. "I don't think we currently have such abuses. However, in the future it could happen."
"I once likened trust to a love potion," Damasio writes in Nature. "Add trust to the mix, for without trust there is no love."
Dose a group of people with oxytocin and it's group hugs all round. The problem with that is that they become easy prey for anybody wishing to take advantage of them, such as con artists. If a delivery system (perhaps an aerosolised form of oxytocin, or one that can be dissolved in drinking water) could be developed, oxytocin could also be useful as a non-lethal mass-behaviour-control weapon. Imagine oxytocin bombs dropped on Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba or Venezuela; all the warring factions, insurgents and resisters put down their weapons and become one big happy family, with the added advantage that they're more than happy to sign over their sovereignty, oilfields, folk-song copyrights and traditional medicine patents, and give Starbucks a national coffee monopoly if merely asked.
(via bOING bOING)
Scientists are discovering the neurological bases of social phenomena such as romantic love, trust, self-awareness and deception.
"We believe romantic love is a developed form of one of three primary brain networks that evolved to direct mammalian reproduction," says researcher Helen Fisher, PhD, of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. "The sex drive evolved to motivate individuals to seek sex with any appropriate partner. Attraction, the mammalian precursor of romantic love, evolved to enable individuals to pursue preferred mating partners, thereby conserving courtship time and energy. The brain circuitry for male-female attachment evolved to enable individuals to remain with a mate long enough to complete species-specific parenting duties."
In the new research, Zak and his colleagues find that when someone observes that another person trusts them, oxytocin - a hormone that circulates in the brain and the body - rises. The stronger the signal of trust, the more oxytocin increases. In addition, the more oxytocin increases, the more trustworthy (reciprocating trust) people are.
"Interestingly, participants in this experiment were unable to articulate why they behaved they way they did, but nonetheless their brains guided them to behave in `socially desirable ways,' that is, to be trustworthy," says Zak. "This tells us that human beings are exquisitely attuned to interpreting and responding to social signals.
(Or, perhaps, that what we know as the conscious mind doesn't so much make decisions or control our behaviour as rationalise it; could it be that the conscious mind does little more than provide a running commentary for the many physical processes happening in the brain and nervous system, and the (advantageous) illusion of a coherent, unified "self"? But I digress.)
And in other related news: a wink sends testosterone soaring:
He paid male students $10 to come into the lab and leave a saliva sample. Unbeknownst to the men, the scientists staged a five-minute chat with a twentysomething female research assistant before they spit. This brief brush set the men's hormones surging: testosterone levels in their spit shot up around 30%. The higher a man's hormone soared, the more the female research assistant judged that he was out to impress - by talking about himself, for example.
As Interflora/Hallmark Relationship Tax Payment Day approaches, an interesting article about how good sex is neurochemically indistinguishable from being in love. The thing that does the magic is a neurochemical called oxytocin, which is released during orgasm and triggers the bonding behaviours in the human brain. So the more sex you have, the more oxytocin you have in your brain, and the more "in-love" you feel. Which can be somewhat problematic if you're not suited to each other outside of the bedroom.
(Yes, it's that time of year. Remind me to keep up the tradition and post some links about how (1) being "in love" is biologically indistinguishable from (a) shooting up heroin, or (b) obsessive-compulsive disorder, (2) the sexual marketplace is not the positive, life-affirming thing it's represented as but rather a brutal, atavistic and ugly form of capitalism-red-in-tooth-and-claw, and (3) it's all a con to take your money and prop up florists, trinket-manufacturing sweatshops and the DeBeers diamond monopoly, and so on.)