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Endogenous oxytocin predicts helping and conversation as a function of group membership

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author McClung Jennifer Susan, Triki Zegni, Clément Fabrice, Bangerter Adrian, Bshary Redouan,
Project The cognitive basis of variable cooperation in humans
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume (Issue) 285(1882)
Page(s) 20180939 - 20180939
Title of proceedings Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
DOI 10.1098/rspb.2018.0939


Humans cooperate with unrelated individuals to an extent that far outstripsany other species. We also display extreme variation in decisions aboutwhether to cooperate or not, and the mechanisms driving this variationremain an open question across the behavioural sciences. One candidatemechanism underlying this variation in cooperation is the evolutionaryancient neurohormone oxytocin (OT). As current research focuses on arti-ficial administration of OT in asocial tasks, little is known about how thehormone in its naturally occurring state actually impacts behaviour insocial interactions. Using a new optimal foraging paradigm, the ‘egghunt’, we assessed the association of endogenous OT with helping be-haviour and conversation. We manipulated players’ group membershiprelative to each other prior to an egg hunt, during which they had repeatedopportunities to spontaneously help each other. Results show that endogen-ous baseline OT predicted helping and conversation type, but crucially as afunction of group membership. Higher baseline OT predicted increasedhelping but only between in-group players, as well as decreased discussionabout individuals’ goals between in-group players but conversely more ofsuch discussion between out-group players. Subsequently, behaviour butnot conversation during the hunt predicted change in OT, in that out-group members who did not help showed a decrease in OT from baselinelevels. In sum, endogenous OT predicts helping behaviour and conversation,importantly as a function of group membership, and this effect occurs in parallel to uniquely human cognitive processes.