Busy Hormone Causes Racism, Love & Angry Hamsters

A new study suggests oxytocin could make you racist. Is there anything that fucking hormone won't do? After the jump, a look at all the things science has pinned on it recently.

First up, Nicholas Wade of the Times reports on research showing that "oxytocin creates intergroup bias primarily because it motivates in-group favoritism." In one especially striking experiment, researchers asked Dutch participants hypothetical moral questions about sacrificing one person to save a group. After sniffing oxytocin, the Dutch folks were much more likely to sacrifice someone with a Muslim-sounding name than a Dutch one. The study authors speculate that the hormone's effect on ethnocentrism may have had an evolutionary purpose: "In the ancestral environment it was very important for people to detect in others whether they had a long-term commitment to the group."

That's right, kids — since the dawn of time, oxytocin has made us racist. But that's not all. Here's some more shit oxytocin reportedly does:

Intensify your feelings about your mom. In one study, a dose of the hormone made men with happy memories of Mom remember her more fondly, and guys with painful recollections more stressed-out.

— Make you happy, sexy, social, and "emotionally resilient." These qualities were apparently observed in women who released more oxytocin than average after being given a small amount of money.

— Improve your empathy. If you're a dude of "low social competence," that is — they apparently did better on a test of "empathic accuracy" after a whiff of the 'tocin.

— Makes you call your mom (sort of). A study showed oxytocin rose when stressed-out girls were allowed to call their mothers. The study author opined that a call home might be "a quick and dirty way to feel better."

— Enrages hamsters. Also baby voles.

— And, of course, (allegedly) makes you fall in love with people who fuck. This particular property of oxytocin, though frequently belied by anecdotal evidence, is probably the most widely remarked-upon — one scientist even thinks we'll one day be taking "booster shots" of oxytocin to improve long-term relationships.

By listing all this research, I don't mean to imply it's worthless. On the contrary — it's quite possible that oxytocin does all this and more. Rather, the recent ascendance of oxytocin illustrates that our hormones are complicated things, and that our brains and bodies interact in a multiplicity of ways. So while we can be fascinated by all this new research, we should be slow to conclude that any one compound always causes love — in the wrong situation, it may inspire hate. Also, we should stay away from angry hamsters.

Depth Of The Kindness Hormone Appears To Know Some Bounds [NYT]

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