Welcome to the new version of CaltechAUTHORS. Login is currently restricted to library staff. If you notice any issues, please email coda@library.caltech.edu
Published October 2015 | public
Journal Article

A human tendency to anthropomorphize is enhanced by oxytocin


In the course of human evolution, the brain has evolved into a highly sensitive detector of social signals. As a consequence of this socially driven adaptation, humans display a tendency to anthropomorphize, that is they attribute social meaning to non-social agents. The evolutionarily highly conserved hypothalamic peptide oxytocin (OXT) has been identified as a key factor attaching salience to socially relevant cues, but whether it contributes to spontaneous anthropomorphism is still elusive. In the present study involving 60 healthy female participants, we measured salivary OXT concentrations and explored the effect of a single intranasal dose of synthetic OXT (24 IU) or placebo (PLC) on anthropomorphic tendencies during participants׳ verbal descriptions of short video clips depicting socially and non-socially moving geometric shapes. Our results show that endogenous OXT concentrations at baseline positively correlated with the attribution of animacy to social stimuli. While intranasal OXT had no modulatory effect on arousal ratings and did not make the participants more talkative, the treatment boosted anthropomorphic descriptions specifically for social stimuli. In conclusion, we here provide first evidence indicating that spontaneous anthropomorphism in women is facilitated by oxytocin, thereby enabling a context-specific upregulation of the propensity to anthropomorphize environmental cues.

Additional Information

© 2015 Elsevier B.V. Received 24 December 2014; received in revised form 11 April 2015; accepted 25 May 2015. The authors wish to thank Paul Jung for excellent programming assistance and Alexandra Patin for proofreading the manuscript. We also want to thank our colleague Robert T. Schultz. Role of the funding source: R.H. was supported by a Starting Independent Researcher Grant ('NEMO – Neuromodulation of Emotion') jointly provided by the Ministry of Innovation, Science, Research & Technology of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia (MIWFT) and the University of Bonn. Author contributions: D.S. and R.H. designed the experiments; D.S. and C.S. conducted the experiments; D.S., C.S., and R.H. analyzed the data; D.S., C.S., J.T.E., R.S., W.M. and R.H. wrote the paper. All authors gave final approval for publication. The authors report no competing biomedical financial interests or personal affiliations in connection with the content of this manuscript.

Additional details

August 22, 2023
October 23, 2023