Letter | Published:

Oxytocin increases trust in humans

Nature volume 435, pages 673676 (02 June 2005) | Download Citation

Subjects

Abstract

Trust pervades human societies1,2. Trust is indispensable in friendship, love, families and organizations, and plays a key role in economic exchange and politics3. In the absence of trust among trading partners, market transactions break down. In the absence of trust in a country's institutions and leaders, political legitimacy breaks down. Much recent evidence indicates that trust contributes to economic, political and social success4,5. Little is known, however, about the biological basis of trust among humans. Here we show that intranasal administration of oxytocin, a neuropeptide that plays a key role in social attachment and affiliation in non-human mammals6,7,8, causes a substantial increase in trust among humans, thereby greatly increasing the benefits from social interactions. We also show that the effect of oxytocin on trust is not due to a general increase in the readiness to bear risks. On the contrary, oxytocin specifically affects an individual's willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions. These results concur with animal research suggesting an essential role for oxytocin as a biological basis of prosocial approach behaviour.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    Trust and Power (Wiley, New York, 1979)

  2. 2.

    Foundations of Social Theory 91–118 (Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1990)

  3. 3.

    Gifts and exchanges. Phil. Publ. Affairs 1, 343–362 (1972)

  4. 4.

    & Does social capital have an economic payoff? A cross-country investigation. Q. J. Econ. 112, 1251–1288 (1997)

  5. 5.

    & Trust and growth. Econ. J. 111, 295–321 (2001)

  6. 6.

    Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Psychoneuroendocrinology 23, 779–818 (1998)

  7. 7.

    Oxytocin may mediate the benefits of positive social interaction and emotions. Psychoneuroendocrinology 23, 819–835 (1998)

  8. 8.

    & The neurobiology of attachment. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 2, 129–136 (2001)

  9. 9.

    & Vasopressin and oxytocin release within the brain: a dynamic concept of multiple and variable modes of neuropeptide communication. Front. Neuroendocrinol. 25, 150–176 (2004)

  10. 10.

    , & Vasopressin and oxytocin excite distinct neuronal populations in the central amygdala. Science 308, 245–248 (2005)

  11. 11.

    , & Neuroendocrine and emotional changes in the post-partum period. Prog. Brain Res. 133, 241–249 (2001)

  12. 12.

    , , & Cellular mechanisms of social attachment. Horm. Behav. 40, 133–138 (2001)

  13. 13.

    Oxytocin control of maternal behavior. Regulation by sex steroids and offspring stimuli. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 807, 126–145 (1997)

  14. 14.

    , & Lactation and stress: protective effects of breast-feeding in humans. Stress 5, 195–203 (2002)

  15. 15.

    & Oxytocin receptor distribution reflects social organization in monogamous and polygamous voles. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 89, 5981–5985 (1992)

  16. 16.

    et al. Sniffing neuropeptides: a transnasal approach to the human brain. Nature Neurosci. 5, 514–516 (2002)

  17. 17.

    , , & Social support and oxytocin interact to suppress cortisol and subjective responses to psychosocial stress. Biol. Psychiatry 54, 1389–1398 (2003)

  18. 18.

    , , , & Selective amnesic effects of oxytocin on human memory. Physiol. Behav. 83, 31–38 (2004)

  19. 19.

    & Experimental tests of a sequential equilibrium reputation model. Econometrica 56, 1–36 (1988)

  20. 20.

    , & Does fairness prevent market clearing? An experimental investigation. Q. J. Econ. 108, 437–459 (1993)

  21. 21.

    , & Trust, reciprocity and social history. Games Econ. Behav. 10, 122–142 (1995)

  22. 22.

    & Trust, risk and betrayal. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 55, 467–484 (2004)

  23. 23.

    & Risk aversion and incentive effects. Am. Econ. Rev. 92, 1644–1655 (2002)

  24. 24.

    & A theory of fairness, competition, and cooperation. Q. J. Econ. 114, 817–868 (1999)

  25. 25.

    & Status and Distrust: the Relevance of Inequality and Betrayal Aversion (Working Paper RW04-041, Kennedy School, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, 2004)

  26. 26.

    , , & Der Mehrdimensionale Befindlichkeitsfragebogen (MDBF) [Multidimensional mood questionnaire] (Hogrefe, Göttingen, 1997)

  27. 27.

    , , & Explaining altruistic behavior in humans. Evol. Hum. Behav. 24, 153–172 (2003)

  28. 28.

    & Inequality aversion, efficiency, and maximin preferences in simple distribution experiments. Am. Econ. Rev. 94, 857–869 (2004)

  29. 29.

    et al. Neural control of maternal behaviour and olfactory recognition of offspring. Brain Res. Bull. 44, 383–395 (1997)

  30. 30.

    z-Tree. Zurich Toolbox for Readymade Economic Experiments (Working Paper No. 21, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics, Univ., Zurich, 1999)

Download references

Acknowledgements

This paper is part of the Research Priority Program ‘Foundations of Human Social Behaviour—Altruism versus Egoism’ at the University of Zurich. Financial support from the MacArthur Foundation (Network on Economic Environments and the Evolution of Individual Preferences and Social Norms) and the Cogito Foundation is gratefully acknowledged. M.H. also acknowledges support from the Swiss National Science Foundation. We thank F. Heusi, A. Enzler, S. Gilomen, E. Götz, M. Koenigsberg, K. Korsunsky, S. Krammer, S. Lauber, P. Obrist-Rybar, M. Schellhammer, B. Studer, R. Stünzi and M. Trottmann for research assistance.

Author information

Author notes

    • Michael Kosfeld
    •  & Markus Heinrichs

    *These authors contributed equally to this work

Affiliations

  1. University of Zurich, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics, Blumlisalpstrasse 10, CH-8006 Zurich, Switzerland

    • Michael Kosfeld
    • , Urs Fischbacher
    •  & Ernst Fehr
  2. University of Zurich, Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Zurichbergstrasse 43, CH-8044 Zurich, Switzerland

    • Markus Heinrichs
  3. Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California 91711-6165, USA

    • Paul J. Zak
  4. Collegium Helveticum, Schmelzbergstrasse 25, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland

    • Ernst Fehr

Authors

  1. Search for Michael Kosfeld in:

  2. Search for Markus Heinrichs in:

  3. Search for Paul J. Zak in:

  4. Search for Urs Fischbacher in:

  5. Search for Ernst Fehr in:

Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Markus Heinrichs or Ernst Fehr.

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03701

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.