Oxytocin is all about bonding, love, affection… and conformity

Oxytocin in a hormone that has been implicated in bonding and is sometimes called the “love hormone”. A new study indicates that it is also involved in conforming to group opinion.

69 males (average age 21 years), half of whom were given an oxytocin nasal spray and the other half given a placebo, rated the attractiveness of a number of visual symbols. They were put into arbitrary “groups”, or “teams” with other participants, and while each person was rating the symbols, the computer told them how their “group” rated the symbols, and how the other “group” rated the symbols. People given the placebo didn’t seem to conform their ratings with either their group’s rating, or the other group’s rating – their own rating seemed to be independent of this. However, people given the oxytocin clearly conformed their rating to their own group’s rating.

Photo of group being photographed

Everyone say “In-group biases”!
Photo: © Paha_l | Stock Free Images

Very interesting results, but I would like to see them replicated with females (as this study only looked at males), and also across the lifespan, rather than just with 20-somethings!

The other things is that they had no way of measuring the basal levels of oxytocin in their participants, or how much each person reacted to the oxytocin nasal spray. I would think there may be some individual differences in these types of measures that could be controlled for (but would, of course, make the experiment more difficult to conduct).

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