The observable examined

Of molecules and (wo)men

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In this past weekend’s edition of WSJ review, the following article appeared

The Trust Molecule

(click above to go to article)

Why are some of us caring and some of us cruel, some generous and some greedy? Paul J. Zak on the new science of morality— and how it could be used to create a more virtuous society

The basic message is oxytocin can foster trust and increase social bonding. Zak writes “…oxytocin orchestrates the kind of generous and caring behavior that every culture endorses as the right way to live—the cooperative, benign, pro-social way of living that every culture on the planet describes as “moral.” The Golden Rule is a lesson that the body already knows, and when we get it right, we feel the rewards immediately….”

This all sounded very good and seemed like the only thing left for us to do was inject ourselves with oxytocin and the whole world would be one large Berkeley hippie commune. Obviously, this would be too easy. I was not entirely satisfied and tried to find out what others had to say on this topic. I found this on the APA site “…

Oxytocin has been on a joy ride for 20 years, ever since animal studies first linked the hormone to bonding between mother and newborn, as well as between mating adults. Dubbed the “cuddle” or “love” hormone by the popular press, more recently it has earned attention for its role in promoting trust.

One company, Vero Labs in Boca Raton, Fla., has even put it in a cologne-like spray, marketed as “Liquid Trust”: Fifty dollars buys a two-month supply that promises consumers “confidence in a bottle,” according to its website….”

Oxytocin doses seem to help children with autism cope much better socially. But some researchers warn that it does have a darker side. From the same APA article …”More evidence of oxytocin’s downside comes from Mount Sinai School of Medicine psychologist Jennifer Bartz, PhD. In a study published online in November in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, she and her colleagues examined whether oxytocin might boost trust and cooperation, as measured with a well-studied economic game, among men and women with borderline personality disorder, who tend to have volatile relationships. She found that rather than increasing trust and teamwork, a dose of oxytocin decreased those feelings compared with a placebo.”

While the jury is still out on the how, why and what of oxytocin, Zak has happily dubbed it the “moral” molecule and in new age style advocates a bunch of behaviors that can enhance social bonding, hugs being his most favorite one. I have to note here that as I was reading these articles, I was reminded of this lady who is fondly referred to as Amma(Mother), by her followers. She apparently can heal, just by hugging and touching. In fact, the byline on her website (link above) says – Embracing the World. The oxytocin definitely must be free flowing in that commune.

Another chemical doing the rounds in the news is dopamine. Researchers have figured out the more adventurous (“scout”)bees in a colony have lower amounts of dopamine making them less averse to novel experiences. Incidentally, in humans it is just the opposite, higher dopamine levels lead to novelty seeking behaviors. As Spock would say, Fascinating!


Written by asterix98

May 3, 2012 at 1:08 am

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