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Oxytocin and defensiveness

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Who doesn’t like oxytocin? Who could dislike any substance referred to as a cuddle chemical? The answer may be you, if you are not in with the crowd feeling the effects of the hormone.

Carsten de Dreu and a super-long list of co-authors (listed below), have administered oxytocin to experimental participants and validated its bright side (cooperation among people in a group), but uncovered its dark side (defensive aggression towards people in other groups). Read all about it.

Carsten K. W. De Dreu, Lindred L. Greer, Michel J. J. Handgraaf, Shaul Shalvi, Gerben A. Van Kleef, Matthijs Baas,Femke S. Ten Velden, Eric Van Dijk, Sander W. W. Feith. (2010) The Neuropeptide Oxytocin Regulates Parochial Altruism in Intergroup Conflict Among Humans. Science, 328(5984), 1408 – 1411.

Humans regulate intergroup conflict through parochial altruism; they self-sacrifice to contribute to in-group welfare and to aggress against competing out-groups. Parochial altruism has distinct survival functions, and the brain may have evolved to sustain and promote in-group cohesion and effectiveness and to ward off threatening out-groups. Here, we have linked oxytocin, a neuropeptide produced in the hypothalamus, to the regulation of intergroup conflict. In three experiments using double-blind placebo-controlled designs, male participants self-administered oxytocin or placebo and made decisions with financial consequences to themselves, their in-group, and a competing out-group. Results showed that oxytocin drives a “tend and defend” response in that it promoted in-group trust and cooperation, and defensive, but not offensive, aggression toward competing out-groups.

H/T author Michel Handgraaf
Photo credit 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oxytocin_with_labels.png
Photo credit 2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markusschoepke/305865244/


  1. John says:

    Hi Dr Dan

    I really love reading your stuff 🙂


    June 28, 2010 @ 11:40 am

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