Oxytocin and the Bottom Line

Trust can be a scary proposition. Among other characteristics, trusting someone involves the ability to measurably predict a behavior on the basis of nothing more than a memory, an impression, or a whim. For creatures like us, who spend a ridiculous amount of time with unpredictable strangers, brokering trust is an oddly important survival strategy.

Trusting behaviors have fascinated a broad swath of the behavioral research community, from social scientists and evolutionary theorists to cellular and molecular biologists. This community has, over the past few years, acquired insight from unlikely corners of academia, including, of all places, business schools. This column is all about an interesting collision between biologists, economists, and the human capacity to rely on the character or integrity of other people.

Those of you who are already familiar with the topic know I am about to discuss one of biology’s most ancient neurotransmitters: oxytocin. Its molecular mechanisms have become increasingly well characterized and have strong links to behaviors that involve the seemingly subjective experience of trust. Oxytocin has even been hypothesized to influence economic decisions. Can it?

To read the rest of the column, download the PDF (it's too long to post on the blog). "Oxytocin and the Bottom Line" was published in the August issue of Psychiatric Times. You can download all the 2008 "Molecules of the Mind" columns below or here.

Oxytocin and the Bottom Line (August 2008)

Of Stress and Alcoholism, Of Mice and Men (July 2008)

The Biology of Recognition Memory (June 2008)

Why Emotional Memories Are Unforgettable (May 2008)

Schizophrenia, DISC1, and Animal Models (April 2008)

Neurobiology of PTSD—Part 3 (March 2008)

Neurobiology of PTSD—Part 2 (February 2008)

Neurobiology of PTSD—Part 1 (January 2008)

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