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Does Oxytocin Increase Trust in Humans? A Critical Review of Research

Nave, Gideon and Camerer, Colin and McCullough, Michael (2015) Does Oxytocin Increase Trust in Humans? A Critical Review of Research. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10 (6). pp. 772-789. ISSN 1745-6916. doi:10.1177/1745691615600138.

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Behavioral neuroscientists have shown that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) plays a key role in social attachment and affiliation in nonhuman mammals. Inspired by this initial research, many social scientists proceeded to examine the associations of OT with trust in humans over the past decade. To conduct this work, they have (a) examined the effects of exogenous OT increase caused by intranasal administration on trusting behavior, (b) correlated individual difference measures of OT plasma levels with measures of trust, and (c) searched for genetic polymorphisms of the OT receptor gene that might be associated with trust. We discuss the different methods used by OT behavioral researchers and review evidence that links OT to trust in humans. Unfortunately, the simplest promising finding associating intranasal OT with higher trust has not replicated well. Moreover, the plasma OT evidence is flawed by how OT is measured in peripheral bodily fluids. Finally, in recent large-sample studies, researchers failed to find consistent associations of specific OT-related genetic polymorphisms and trust. We conclude that the cumulative evidence does not provide robust convergent evidence that human trust is reliably associated with OT (or caused by it). We end with constructive ideas for improving the robustness and rigor of OT research.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Supplement
Nave, Gideon0000-0001-6251-5630
Camerer, Colin0000-0003-4049-1871
Additional Information:© 2015 The Author(s). Colin Camerer acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation and the Behavioral and Neuroeconomics Discovery Fund (California Institute of Technology). Michael McCullough acknowledges support from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the John Templeton Foundation. We thank Jorge Barraza, Thomas Baumgartner, Allison E. Gaffey, Keith M. Kendrick, Anthony Lane, Moira Mikolajczak, Michelle M. Wirth, and Kevin (Shuxia) Yao for generously and rapidly sharing their data. We also thank Elizabeth Beaver and Robert Glaser for research assistance. Finally, we thank Tom Cunningham, Anna Dreber Almenberg, Ernst Fehr, Philipp Koellinger, and David Sbarra for useful comments on earlier versions of this article. Declaration of Conflicting Interests: The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR)UNSPECIFIED
John Templeton FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:oxytocin, trust, prosociality, social neuroendocrinology, neuroeconomics, replication
Issue or Number:6
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20151130-150806962
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Gideon Nave, Colin Camerer, and Michael McCullough Does Oxytocin Increase Trust in Humans? A Critical Review of Research Perspectives on Psychological Science November 2015 10: 772-789, doi:10.1177/1745691615600138
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:62464
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:03 Dec 2015 03:58
Last Modified:10 Nov 2021 23:02

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