Friday, June 03, 2005

Oxytocin and Trust

I've written about the hormone oxytocin and its role in trust before, but here (via The Guardian, via Nature) comes interesting corroboration as to howit influences our decisions as to trustworthiness:

"Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich and colleagues tested 194 healthy male students in a series of sophisticated games of risk and trust: the players were given notional currency and could choose to place all of it, some of it or nothing in the hands of trustees who would then decide how much to hand back after the stake had been tripled. Some players were given a whiff of oxytocin, some inhaled a vial of air. None of the players knew what they were sniffing and none knew whether the trustees were trustworthy or not: they had to make a decision. Those who sniffed oxytocin showed a greater propensity to trust someone than those who simply inhaled air. But when the trustee was replaced with a computer, both sets of investors showed much the same judgment. So the oxytocin did not make the investors generally more gullible or profligate: the effect was only visible when they had to deal with another human being. Paradoxically, Dr Fehr and his colleagues began the experiment because one of them believed that oxytocin signalled trustworthiness, rather than a propensity to trust."

I think I can just about get away with quoting this much of The Guardian article - the interesting point from a computing aspect is how to build trust within an oxytocin-free environment...

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