Spray said to turn people to pushovers http://www.world-science.net/othernews/080521_oxytocin.htm
May 21, 2008
Courtesy Cell Press
and World Science staff
Researchers have identified brain centers activated by betrayal of trust—and a way to keep them quiet.
A spray of a hormone, oxytocin, makes people keep trusting even someone who has betrayed them, the scientists explained. They presented the findings not as a trick for, say, cheating spouses to keep their partners cooperative, but as an insight into the mind with possible clinical value.
Thomas Baumgartner of the University of Zurich and colleagues said their work could help reveal the brain wiring behind trust and possibly the basis of social disorders such as phobias and autism. The findings are reported in the May 22 issue of the research journal Neuron.
The investigators asked volunteers to play a “trust game” in which they contributed money to a human trustee, who would either invest it and return the profits—or betray them and keep it all.
Some players also received a nasal spray containing the brain chemical and hormon oxytocin, found in previous studies to make people more trusting.
The researchers found that stiffed players who had received oxytocin went on trusting their treacherous partners. Players who had received an inactive spray instead of oxytocin did not.
Oxytocin was also found to reduce activity in two brain regions: the amygdala, which processes fear, danger and possibly risk of social betrayal; and an area of the striatum, part of the circuitry that guides and adjusts future behavior based on reward feedback.
These oxytocin-associated changes, researchers said, occurred only when players believed an actual person was making the decisions about their money. The changes didn’t occur in a separate “risk game,” where subjects were told a computer would randomly decide whether their money would be repaid or not.
Players’ brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, a technique in which harmless magnetic fields and radio waves are used to monitor brain activity by mapping blood flow in the organ.
“Our insights into the neural circuitry of trust adaptation, and oxytocin’s role in trust adaptation, may also contribute to a deeper understanding of mental disorders such as social phobia or autism that are associated with social deficits,” the researchers wrote. “In particular, social phobia (which is the third most common mental health disorder) is characterized by persistent fear and avoidance of social interactions.”
The work “has significant implications for understanding mental disorders where deficits in social behavior are observed,” wrote psychologist Mauricio Delgado of Rutgers University in New Jersey, who was not involved in the research, in a preview in the same issue of the journal. Fear of betrayal, for example, “could serve as a precursor to social phobia,” he continued, adding that the oxytocin finding suggests “potential clinical applications.”
“potential clinical applications.”
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