Some of the prosocial effects of oxytocin (OT) such as trust, emotional empathy and socially reinforced learning are well-known, but a recent study published in the Hormones and Behavior journal is perhaps the first one to show that OT also increases generosity.
Oxytocin (OT) is a nine amino acid neuropeptide, discovered by Sir Henry Dale in 1906 and the ﬁrst peptide hormone to be sequenced and synthesized by Vincent du Vigneaud in 1953.
The hormone, best known for its role in inducing labor and lactation, is also involved in a wide variety of physiological and pathological functions.
Oxytocin induces a general sense of well-being including calm, improved social interactions, reduced fear, anxiety and stress system activity.
The hormone it also secreted by thymic epithelial cells and is involved in T cell differentiation and activation, modulation of inflammation and cytokine production, and has been implicated in autism, depression and several cancers.
In the Hormones and Behavior study Jorge Barraza and colleagues from the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, Claremont Graduate University demonstrate that oxytocin affects pro-social behaviors. They report that OT did not affect the decision to donate, but among the participants who did donate, people infused with oxytocin donate 48% more to charity than those given a placebo.
According to the authors this indicates that oxytocin can promote acts of giving and indirect generosity, increasing the size of monetary donations to charitable organizations. As there are no direct beneﬁts to anonymous charitable giving for the donor, donation behavior can be seen as a form of altruism.
These ﬁndings add to previous research showing that oxytocin affects virtuous behaviors directed at individuals, revealing that oxytocin affects a wide range of pro-social behaviors.
SOURCE: Horm Behav 2011, 60:148. Epub 2011 May 8