Monday, January 17, 2011

Oxytocin - The Racist Hormone

No love for outsiders – oxytocin makes us favor our own ethnic or cultural groups
Few molecules have a reputation as glowing as that of oxytocin. Often billed as the "love hormone" or "cuddle hormone", oxytocin has been linked to virtually every positive aspect of human behaviour. But it also promotes racial and cultural bias...

...Carsten de Dreu from the University of Amsterdam has found that sniffs of oxytocin make us more biased towards peers from our own ethnic or cultural group, versus those from other groups...

...First, de Dreu looked for any hidden biases in the volunteers' reactions to German, Arab or other Dutch men. He used an ‘implicit association test, where volunteers used two keys to categorize words into different groups ...Combinations of categories that contradict our biases should subtly slow our reaction times. If people are biased against Arab people, they'd take longer to finish the test if the same key was assigned to both Arab names and positive words. These "implicit associations" are very hard to fake, especially if the test is done at speed.

Sure enough, oxytocin strengthened the biases of the Dutch volunteers. When they sniffed oxytocin (rather than the placebo), they were quicker to associate positive words with Dutch names than with either German or Arab ones.
So the hormone that helps bring families together, causes them to be more anxious of people they are not as familiar with?  OK, that makes evolutionary sense.  Do women get a bye on racism because oxytocin predisposes them to it?  Are we really just chemical machines?

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