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'Love Hormone' May be Making You a Liar

May 12, 2015 02:38 AM EDT
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Oxytocin, also known as the "love hormone," has been associated with a heightened willingness to lie for the benefit of one's group, according to a recent study.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, details the work of researchers from the Ben-Gurion University (BGU) and the University of Amsterdam and focuses on the effects that oxytocin has on ethical decision-making.

Past research has determined that heightened levels of oxytocin in a person leads to more empathy, trust and acceptance (even between a dog and its owner). Recent research has even looked into the application of oxytocin therapy as a means to help people with social anxiety disorders - such as an eating disorder - dwell less on negative social factors and ideas.

This latest research looks into the theory that the hormone encourages greater feelings of association between people, making them more willing to bend or break ethical responsibilities for the sake of their group.

According to the study, the researchers had 20 teams of three male participants take a dose of either oxytocin or a placebo. The teams were then asked to predict the results of a coin toss 10 times and record whether or not they got the answer right. The amount of money each team was rewarded with at the end of the experiment was determined by how many times they predicted the toss correctly.

The participants were not observed by researchers during their coin tosses, but were asked to be honest about whether or not they were correct in their predictions.

According to the authors of the study, the statistical probability of someone guessing correctly for all, or even nine of the 10 coin tosses is approximately one percent. However, 53 percent of the groups who received oxytocin doses reported having done just that.

Interestingly, only 23 percent of the groups who had received a placebo similarly lied about their coin toss results in order to earn more money for the group.

According to Dr. Shaul Shalvi, who led the study, these results likely happened because the dose of oxytocin made the men who received it feel a stronger bond with their group members, and thus more likely to lie for their sake.

"Our results suggest people are willing to bend ethical rules to help the people close to us, like our team or family," he explained.

This then can raise an even bigger question: if we're instinctively lying to help out one another , is it always "wrong?" I couldn't tell you, but it's some food for thought.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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