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Love Hormone, Oxytocin, Encourages Group Lying

Update Date: Apr 02, 2014 12:33 PM EDT

People lie for several reasons, whether it is to save themselves or to protect others. In a new study, researchers examined the role of the love hormone, oxytocin, and its effects on lying. The team from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the University of Amsterdam found that oxytocin could encourage group lying.

Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the brain's hypothalamus. The hormone is typically produced during moments of bonding between couples, families and even groups. In this study, Dr. Shaul Shalvi from the BGU of the Negev's Department of Psychology and director of BGU's Center for Decision Making and Economic Psychology and Carsten K. W. De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam's Department of Psychology recruited 60 men. The participants were randomly given a dose of either oxytocin or a placebo that was administered via the nasal passageway.

The men were then divided into three groups and told to predict the results of 10 coin tosses. For each coin toss, they had to report whether or not their prediction was right. The researchers rewarded money for each correct guess. If the team cheated in order to earn more money, the researchers would not know.

The team reported that statistically, people's ability to correctly guess nine out of the 10 coin tosses is around one percent. However, 53 percent of the people in the oxytocin group reported predicting nine out of the 10 tosses correctly. In the placebo group, only 23 percent of the people stated that they guessed nine out of 10 of the tosses correctly.

"Our results suggest people are willing to bend ethical rules to help the people close to us, like our team or family," said Dr. Shalvi. "This raises an interesting, although perhaps more philosophical, question: Are all lies immoral?"

Dr. Shalvi added according to the press release, "Together, these findings fit a functional perspective on morality revealing dishonesty to be plastic and rooted in evolved neurobiological circuitries, and align with work showing that oxytocin shifts the decision-maker's focus from self to group interests. The results highlight the role of bonding and cooperation in shaping dishonesty, providing insight into when and why collaboration turns into corruption."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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