April 2, 2014

shutterstock_101776213A joint Israeli and Dutch study has found that the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin will trigger you to lie for the sake of your friends and family. Not much is known about the biological foundations of immoral behavior, but a new study now suggests that this peptide of nine amino acids produced in the hypothalamus could be a real reason for dishonesty.

Dr. Shaul Shalvi of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Department of Psychology and Carsten K. W. De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Psychology report in an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment showing that the hormone oxytocin promotes group-serving corruption.

Shalvi and De Dreu designed an experiment to test the effects of oxytocin on group-serving dishonesty. Sixty male participants were split into teams of three and were asked to predict the results of 10 coin tosses. For each correct prediction, participants won money. Before engaging in the task, participants received an intranasal dose of oxytocin or placebo.

The researchers found that compared with participants receiving placebo, applicants receiving oxytocin lied more to benefit their groups, did so quicker, and did so without expectation of reciprocal dishonesty from their group members.

“The statistical probability of someone correctly guessing the results of nine or 10 coin tosses is about 1%. Yet, 53% of those who were given oxytocin claimed to have predicted that many coin tosses,” says Shalvi. “That such a pattern occurred by chance is extremely unlikely.”

The study shows that oxytocin seems to promote lying for the benefit of one’s group.

“Our results suggest people are willing to bend ethical rules to help the people close to us, like our team or family,” says Shalvi, “This raises an interesting although perhaps more philosophical question: Are all lies immoral?”

Illustration by Shutterstock.com

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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