Center Study Featured in New York Times

November 24, 2009

In The New York Times today, Natalie Angier reports on a wave of new research into the functions of oxytocin–aka "the love hormone" or "the cuddle hormone"–including the new study, funded by the Greater Good Science Center, that documents a biological basis to empathy.

That study found evidence that our ability to identify and feel the emotions of others is influenced by a specific variation in the gene that's the receptor for oxytocin. But Angier cites several recent studies that have uncovered other important ways that oxytocin helps build social connections, including research suggesting that oxytocin promotes trust between people (research covered in Greater Good's Fall 2008 issue on trust).

That research found people were more likely to invest their money with others after receiving a dose of oxytocin (Angier jokes that oxytocin may serve as a "capitalist tool"). Years before those research findings, it had already been shown to play an integral role in childbirth and breastfeeding.

Oxytocin didn't get much attention from scientists (or the media) when it was just linked to love and compassion, a point made in Angier's piece by Sue Carter of the University of Illinois, whose work with prarie voles helped bring to light the role of oxytocin in love and social bonding. "But now that it's been brought into the world of economics and finance," says Carter, "suddenly it's very hot."

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