Study finds that oxytocin enhances conformity

May 15, 2017

Hope you were nice to your mom on Mother's Day, because it turns out she was right all along: Hanging out with the wrong crowd can lead you to make bad decisions, and for the first time an ASU researcher has proved it and provided a theory to explain why.

A new study from post-doctoral researcher Goekhan Aydogan published in Psychological Science, found that conformity is enhanced by oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone, and that the enhancement has a detrimental effect on honesty and moral values in a .

Aydogan's study builds on previous research, which also found that oxytocin increased conformity. He took a step further by proving that it leads to an increase in immoral behavior.

"This is the first study to show that peer pressure has a detrimental effect on ," he explained.

Oxytocin is released into the brain and the bloodstream as a result of various social stimuli, such as a baby crying or a friendly face, and it has a variety of effects, not all of which are known or understood.

In women who have just given birth, it is believed oxytocin is released to enhance bonding between her and the baby, prompting some to refer to it as the "cuddle" hormone, or the "love" hormone.

But that doesn't paint the whole picture, Aydogan points out, given its connection to conforming behavior.

"You can think of oxytocin like a mechanism that bonds group members together," he said.

With that in mind, Aydogan and his team designed an experiment in which 60 participants were given a dose of oxytocin via , and 60 participants were given a placebo via nasal spray. They were then asked to privately flip a coin and report whether it landed on heads or tails—heads resulted in a monetary reward.

Because the participants were the only ones who saw the result of the coin flip, they could lie without detection in order to receive the monetary reward. By comparing the reported outcomes of all the participants with their statistical chance implied by a fair coin, researchers were able to assess honesty on an aggregate level. However, researchers did not find a significant difference in lying about the results between the participants who had received oxytocin and the participants who had received a placebo.

Participants then performed the coin-tossing task again, this time with the opportunity to receive a greater monetary reward if they performed better than a competitor. In this case, researchers found that participants who had received oxytocin lied more about the coin flip results than those who had not.

Aydogan provides athletes as real-world examples. Despite the serious consequences, many cheat by doping because they believe that close peers and rivals do, too.

If, as Aydogan presumes, athletes release —the group bonding hormone—as a result of interacting with those peers in a competitive environment, they will become more likely to engage in conforming behavior, even if it would otherwise be considered immoral.

"If you assume everyone else is using performance enhancing drugs, then you … might perceive this as not immoral anymore because everyone else is doing it," Aydogan said. "So a kind of new norm is created where everyone is using ."

The results of the study have implications for policymakers and those in position of power, Aydogan said.

"It's extremely important to communicate that if you observe fraudulent behavior—like doping or tax evasion—that it is not common practice," he said.

But it's also important to prevent the situation in the first place: "At the same time, what you want to do is appeal to the moral code of people. Appeal to their personal responsibility. Like in elementary school, if someone jumps out of window, would you jump as well? This is basically the idea: Don't do it just because everyone does it."

Explore further: Oxytocin improves synchronization in leader-follower interaction

More information: Gökhan Aydogan et al. The Detrimental Effects of Oxytocin-Induced Conformity on Dishonesty in Competition, Psychological Science (2017). DOI: 10.1177/0956797617695100

Related Stories

Oxytocin improves synchronization in leader-follower interaction

December 9, 2016
When standing in a crowd at a concert, clapping hands along with the music on stage, it may be that people with higher levels of oxytocin are better synchronised with the beat of the music than those with lower levels of ...

How dads bond with toddlers: Brain scans link oxytocin to paternal nurturing

February 17, 2017
Fathers given boosts of the hormone oxytocin show increased activity in brain regions associated with reward and empathy when viewing photos of their toddlers, an Emory University study finds.

Oxytocin enhances spirituality, new study says

September 21, 2016
Oxytocin has been dubbed the "love hormone" for its role promoting social bonding, altruism and more. Now new research from Duke University suggests the hormone may also support spirituality.

A single spray of oxytocin improves brain function in children with autism

December 2, 2013
A single dose of the hormone oxytocin, delivered via nasal spray, has been shown to enhance brain activity while processing social information in children with autism spectrum disorders, Yale School of Medicine researchers ...

Research duo finds oxytocin promotes group-serving dishonesty

April 1, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A pair of researchers, one in Israel the other in the Netherlands has found that volunteers given oxytocin tend to be more willing to lie if it benefits a group they belong to. In their paper published ...

Oxytocin impact on eye response during interactions found to reduce trust

March 1, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with Leiden University in the Netherlands has found that increased levels of oxytocin can lead to suppression of pupil dilation mimicry, which in turn can reduce the amount of trust ...

Recommended for you

Many kinds of happiness promote better health, study finds

July 21, 2017
A new study links the capacity to feel a variety of upbeat emotions to better health.

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.