Oxytocin Increases Generosity and Charitable Donations

Oxytocin Increases Generosity and Charitable Donations

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.

This includes sexual activity, maternal behavior, social recognition, building trust and pair or social bonding, and it is often referred to as the “love or kindness hormone”.

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

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Source: Cover Image: Oxytocin-neurophysin complex based on: "Crystal structure of the neurophysin-oxytocin complex" Rose, J.P. et al., 1996, Nat. Struct. Biol. 3: 163-169. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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