Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Human ethnocentrism—the tendency to view one's group as centrally important and superior to other groups—creates intergroup
bias that fuels prejudice, xenophobia, and intergroup violence. Grounded in the idea that ethnocentrism also facilitates within-group
trust, cooperation, and coordination, we conjecture that ethnocentrism may be modulated by brain oxytocin, a peptide shown
to promote cooperation among in-group members. In double-blind, placebo-controlled designs, males self-administered oxytocin
or placebo and privately performed computer-guided tasks to gauge different manifestations of ethnocentric in-group favoritism
as well as out-group derogation. Experiments 1 and 2 used the Implicit Association Test to assess in-group favoritism and
out-group derogation. Experiment 3 used the infrahumanization task to assess the extent to which humans ascribe secondary,
uniquely human emotions to their in-group and to an out-group. Experiments 4 and 5 confronted participants with the option
to save the life of a larger collective by sacrificing one individual, nominated as in-group or as out-group. Results show
that oxytocin creates intergroup bias because oxytocin motivates in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation.
These findings call into question the view of oxytocin as an indiscriminate "love drug" or "cuddle chemical" and suggest that
oxytocin has a role in the emergence of intergroup conflict and violence.
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