Neuroeconomist Paul Zak extols the virtues of oxytocin, a natural hormone released by the body when we are around people we love and trust. In Zak’s experiments, those given doses of oxytocin, which can be extracted from the human posterior pituitary gland, felt the spontaneous urge to hug those around them. “[Oxytocin] affects every aspect of social and economic life, from who we choose to make investment decisions on our behalf to how much money we donate to charity,” says Zak. It is the molecule on which social connections are built.
What’s the Big Idea?
Oxytocin is the essence of empathy, the bonding mechanism that allows us to sympathize with others, so could dosing the human population with it bring about a kinder, gentler species? Zak says it could while others maintain that the vocabulary of social science is sufficient for us to understand what motivates sympathy and aggression in others. Moreover, the social sciences emphasize human agency and responsibility, terms which are missing in a prescription for a peaceful society made so through the targeted release of a chemical hormone.