Love Hormone Also Causes Racism

More

Ed Yong reports on a new study that changes how we view oxytocin, which "has been linked to virtually every positive aspect of human behaviour, including trust, social skills, empathy, generosity, cooperation, and even orgasm." The study shows one other, not so beneficial, side:

[Carsten de Dreu at the University of Amsterdam] presented volunteers with a famous series of moral dilemmas. For example, a runaway rail trolley is hurtling towards five people who are about to be killed unless you flip a switch that diverts the trolley into the path of just one person. All of the dilemmas took the same form – you weigh the lives of one person against a group. And in all the cases, the lone person had either a Dutch, German or Arab name, while the group were nameless.

After a sniff of placebo, the Dutch volunteers were just as likely to sacrifice the single person, no matter what name they had. But after sniffing oxytocin, they were far less likely to sacrifice the Dutch loners than the German and Arab ones.

Jonah Lehrer notes that these findings apply to most attempted "enhancements" to the brain:

This suggests that the feelings of trust and warmth triggered by oxytocin come with a hidden cost, in that we become less likely to trust “outsiders.” Although the chemical sharpens our positive feelings towards those we already know and understand, it also exaggerates the perceived differences between our in-group and everyone else. There is no love for all.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. One of the endlessly repeated lessons of the human brain is that it’s a finely equilibrated machine, full of carefully engineered compromises and tradeoffs. As a result, many of our attempted “enhancements” come with a steep cost, triggering a raft of unintended side-effects.

Jump to comments

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to a Seaside Town in Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where the Wild Things Go

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Adults Need Playtime Too

When was the last time you played your favorite childhood game?

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down