We’ve covered a lot on the cuddle hormone oxytocin, from how it makes you a more loving father to its roles in kissing. But a new study from the University of Amsterdam shows it may also turn men into ethnocentric assholes.
Here’s Carsten de Dreu, the co-author of the study:
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. 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 study tested several groups of 60 to 70 Dutch men—some had been given hits of oxytocin, and some had not—who were all asked a simple question: in a runaway train scenario, would you choose to save five German and Arab lives (nationalities frequently seen as rivals by the Dutch) by risking the life of one of your country men?
The men with elevated rates of oxytocin mostly said no, they would save their fellow countryman over the Arabs and Germans. In fact, they were even readily available to risk the foreign lives when it wasn’t completely necessary. The men who weren’t under the influence of the cuddle drug showed some favoritism, but not nearly at the levels of those on oxytocin.
Sarina Rodrigues of Oregon State University claims that this holds true even when long-standing country rivalries aren’t at play:
It complements recent data showing oxytocin can promote envy when someone you don’t like wins something, or gloating when you win over someone you don’t like. It’s key to defining where and who we are in society.”
In short, oxytocin can bring out both the best and the worst in men.
Researchers say their next step is to test these reactions in real-life scenarios to see if the effects are stronger, weaker, or just the same when it comes to a group of people who are your friends. After all, a computer animation doesn’t quite cut it against the real deal.