A team of researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev have discovered that the hormone oxytocin can promote “group-serving dishonesty.”
According to findings published today (Monday) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), participants receiving oxytocin “lied more to benefit their groups, did so quicker, and did so without expectation of reciprocal dishonesty from their group members. A control setting ruled out that oxytocin drives self-serving dishonesty.”
The team, led by Dr. Shaul Shalvi at the university’s Department of Psychology, worked in cooperation with Carsten K.W. De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Psychology.
Shalvi is director of BGU’s Center for Decision Making and Economic Psychology (DMEP). He noted, “Our results suggest people are willing to bend ethical rules to help the people close to us, like our team or family. This raises an interesting although perhaps more philosophical question: Are all lies immoral?”
Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and functions as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter to create bonding between couples and between mothers and babies. It also stimulates social interactions.
Researchers have found a correlation between increased oxytocin and greater empathy, lower social anxiety, more pro-social choice in anonymous games, reduction in fear response, cooperation in single-shot anonymous games and trust in interpersonal exchange. It also stimulates defense-related aggression.
The study was funded in part by the People Program (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program under a Research Executive Agency Grant Agreement and by the Netherlands Science Foundation.