Oxytocin: How One Molecule Shapes Our Social Lives


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Oxytocin: how one molecule shapes our social lives

What is it?
Neuropeptide [noor-oh-pep-tahyd]=
A peptide produced by neural tissue, esp one with hormonal activity.[3]

Or, a molecule that helps with[2]:
food intake
social behavior
and memory functions.

It’s something tiny that alters our entire social world.

Oxytocin attracts us to others when we’re single, and reinforces existing relationships when we aren’t.

The Experiment: [1]

86 healthy, heterosexual males:
–Half in relationships
half of those with a dose of oxytocin
the other half with a placebo
–Half single
half of those with a dose of oxytocin
half of those with a placebo

The setting:
A room with an attractive female experimenter
And a control male experimenter

What we’re watching:
1.) space between experimenter and experimentee
2.) eye contact

[group, ideal distance [cm]]
1a.) Oxytocin/in relationship/with eye contact: c. 70cm
2a.) Oxytocin/single/with eye contact: c. 68 cm
3a.) Placebo/in relationship/with eye contact: c. 56 cm
4a.) Placebo/Single/with eye contact: c.57 cm
1b.) Oxytocin/in relationship/ no eye contact:c. 69.5 cm
2b.) Oxytocin/single/no eye contact:c. 57 cm
3b.) Placebo/in relationship/no eye contact: c. 54cm
4b.) Placebo/single/no eye contact: c. 54 cm

To point out:
Distance between Oxytocin/in relationship, and both placebo’d parties.
Or, ‘a steady 6 inch difference can mean a lot when signaling attraction.’

Strengthening of social memories: good or bad
Oxytocin heightens social memories, both good and bad

3 groups of mice:
1.) Oxytocin receptors removed
2.) Extra Oxytocin receptors
3.) Normal Oxytocin receptors

Each placed into individual cages with more aggressive mice.

Six hours later:
Mice placed back in cages with aggressive mice

Group 1: initially showed no fear
Group 2: showed intense fear
Group 3: showed moderate fear

The group with no Oxytocin receptors appeared to have forgotten the violent encounter.

The groupthink hormone:
Experiment 1:[5][6]

6 Groups of 6,
One half of the participants on oxytocin

Groups viewed images and voted on the most attractive(1-11 ratings).

Placebo (group 1) and Oxytocined(group 2) groups viewed their own and other groups responses.

Group 1 and 2 agreed with their group more often than not.
But Group 2 cited more strongly with their group when another group disagreed.

Summary: Oxytocin enhances bonds with those around you, and subsequently alienates you from other groups.

Experiment 2:[7][8]
400 participants who identify strongly with a campus group:
ROTC, Band members, frat members, sports teammates.
Performing a group ritual:
(marching),(band practice), (ritual), (practice or travel)
Led to increased oxytocin levels.

Groups played trust and sharing games (can visualize as company retreat type ‘catch me as I fall back’ type games)
For money
Then had the option to
1.) split the money among their group
2.) donate to a random charity

Groups that reported feeling more marginalized went for option (1).
(Band nerds;sports teams without many fans)
And in the presence of stress or heightened testosterone:
Groups were outright aggressive against other groups.

Oxytocin fosters trust, not gullibility[9]
60 men: half with a spray of oxytocin (group 1)
Half without(group 2)
Played a game where they could transfer money to
1.) a trustworthy partner
2.) the computer
3.) an untrustworthy partner

Group 1
Gave more to 1, and 2, but not to 3
Group 2
Gave less to 1, 2, and 3

Summary: Oxytocin made partipants more trusting, not unreasonable.

Oxytocin: the love, cuddle, holiday, moral, and group think hormone makes us who we are, for better and worse.



  1. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/32/46/16074.full.pdf+html
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuropeptide
  3. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Neuropeptide?s=t
  4. http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/07/27/love-hormone-oxytocin-tied-to-social-anxiety-fear-in-mice/57652.html
  5. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/23/11/1288.abstract
  6. http://oxytocincentral.com/2013/03/oxytocin-helps-group-thinking-and-working/
  7. http://www.alternet.org/culture/5-surprising-ways-oxytocin-shapes-your-social-life?page=0%2C2
  8. http://www.neuroeconomicstudies.org/
  9. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/21/8/1072