'Love hormone' oxytocin can actually make people more dishonest, scientists say

People more likely to lie and deceive after taking the hormone - if it will benefit their wider group

The so-called "moral molecule" oxytocin - a hormone often believed to encourage love, trust and cooperation - can actually make people more dishonest, scientists have discovered.

The hormone is closely linked to pregnancy and childbirth, among other things stimulating milk production and maternal bonding, and has been variously dubbed the "cuddle chemical" or "hug hormone" for its wider role in positive social interactions.

Yet according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people who took part in a trust game after inhaling oxytocin were more likely to lie than those who took a placebo.

The test subjects were asked to win money by predicting the toss of a virtual €1 coin, and report on whether they got it right. Those who were told the winnings would go to both them and a group of teammates were more likely to cheat if they had taken oxytocin.

In another test, those who received the hormone but were told their results would not affect the rest of the group were no more likely to lie to organisers.

The University of Amsterdam's Carsten de Dreu, who co-led the study published this week, said: "This is the best evidence yet that oxytocin is not the 'moral molecule'.

"It doesn’t make people more moral or immoral. It shifts people’s focus from themselves to their group or tribe," he said.

When the 60 volunteers were told they could win money for a wider team, they said they had guessed the coin toss correctly 80 per cent of the time - significantly higher than the 67 per cent returned by those who had not received oxytocin and higher again than the average 50 per cent expected if they were being honest.

While the link between oxytocin and positive human behaviours has been seen in a number of human experiments, the scientists said their research showed it was a little more complicated than that.

De Dreu told The Scientist: "It can actually make people more immoral in the group situation because they’re deceiving, and stealing money from, the experimenter.

"Some people may say that it’s still the ‘love hormone’, because they love their in-group, but these people are in a very minimalistic setting and they don’t know the others in their group," De Dreu said. "Oxytocin is causing a more general shift from self-interest to group-interest. It’s simplistic and wrong to call oxytocin a ‘moral’ molecule."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect