Here's another use for experimental ecnomics: scientists have isolated the chemical they dub trust in a bottle.

A Swiss-led research team tested their creation on volunteers playing an investment game for real money. When they inhaled the nasal spray, investors were more likely to hand over money to a trustee, knowing that, although they could make a hefty profit, they could also lose everything if the trustee decided not to give any of the money back.

The potion's magic ingredient is oxytocin, a chemical that is produced naturally in the brain. Its production is triggered by a range of stimuli, including sex and breastfeeding, and it is known to be important in the formation of social ties, such as mating pairs and parent-offspring bonds. It is perhaps no surprise that the compound has been nicknamed the 'love hormone'.

Experts think that oxytocin exerts its range of effects by boosting some social behaviours: it may encourage animals or people to overcome their natural wariness when faced with a risky situation. The theory argues that people only decide to trust each other - when forming a sexual or business relationship, for example - when the brain's oxytocin production is boosted.

Many human behaviors -- from advertising to romance -- are tailored to elicit an increase in oxytocin production in their target. Administering the chemical directly would only flatten the playing field and lessen the advantage enjoyed by those of us who are particularly charming. Is that fair? In a way, bottled oxytocin is to a social misfit what a gun is to a physical weakling. Still, convincing someone with natural charm seems somehow less creepy than using a chemical in a bottle.

(HT: GeekPress.)



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