A registered replication study on oxytocin and trust


In an influential paper, Kosfeld et al. (2005) showed that intranasal administration of oxytocin (OT) increases the transfers made by investors in the trust game—suggesting that OT increases trust in strangers. Subsequent studies investigating the role of OT in the trust game found inconclusive effects on the trusting behaviour of investors but these studies deviated from the Kosfeld et al. study in an important way—they did not implement minimal social contact (MSC) between the investors and the trustees in the trust game. Here, we performed a large double-blind and placebo-controlled replication study of the effects of OT on trusting behaviour that yields a power of more than 95% and implements an MSC condition as well as a no-social-contact (NoC) condition. We find no effect of OT on trusting behaviour in the MSC condition. Exploratory post hoc analyses suggest that OT may increase trust in individuals with a low disposition to trust in the NoC condition, but this finding requires confirmation in future research.

Protocol registration

The stage 1 protocol for this Registered Report was accepted in principle on 19 October 2018. The protocol, as accepted by the journal, can be found at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.11980368.

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Fig. 1: Investments in the trust game in each condition.
Fig. 2: Investments in the trust game per condition for individuals with a below- and above-median general disposition to trust.
Fig. 3: A condensed overview of the main difference between the NoC and MSC conditions.

Data availability

All data collected for this study, along with the experimental logs and protocols have been deposited at the Open Science Framework and can be accessed at https://osf.io/jkcv5/?view_only=c647a145f38d4717ac4d750d04e1e222.

Code availability

The z-tree code with which the trust game was programmed can be accessed at: https://osf.io/jkcv5/?view_only=c647a145f38d4717ac4d750d04e1e222.


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Funding for this study has been provided by the University of Zurich. The funders had no role in the conceptualization, design, data collection, analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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C.H.D., C.B., B.V. and E.F. developed the idea of a replication study that controls for minimal social contacts. C.H.D., C.B., B.V. and E.F. designed the study with contributions from L.P.; C.H.D., C.B., B.V. and E.F. wrote the preregistration report. C.H.D. and B.V. supervised and conducted the data collection.

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Correspondence to Ernst Fehr.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–13, Supplementary Figs. 1–4, Supplementary Methods and Supplementary References.

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Declerck, C.H., Boone, C., Pauwels, L. et al. A registered replication study on oxytocin and trust. Nat Hum Behav 4, 646–655 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0878-x

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