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Oxytocin, but not Vasopressin, Increases both Parochial and Universal Altruism


  • Salomon Israel
  • Ori Weisel
  • Richard P. Ebstein
  • Gary Bornstein


In today’s increasingly interconnected world, deciding with whom and at what level to cooperate becomes a matter of increasing importance as societies become more globalized and large-scale cooperation becomes a viable means of addressing global issues. This tension can play out via competition between local (e.g. within a group) and global (e.g., between groups) interests. Despite research highlighting factors influencing cooperation in such multi-layered situations, their biological basis is not well understood. In a double-blind placebo controlled study, we investigated the influence of intranasally administered oxytocin and arginine vasopressin on cooperative behavior at local and global levels. We find that oxytocin causes an increase in both the willingness to cooperate and the expectation that others will cooperate at both levels. In contrast, participants receiving vasopressin did not differ from those receiving placebo in their cooperative behavior. Our results highlight the selective role of oxytocin in intergroup cooperative behavior.

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  • Salomon Israel & Ori Weisel & Richard P. Ebstein & Gary Bornstein, 2012. "Oxytocin, but not Vasopressin, Increases both Parochial and Universal Altruism," Discussion Paper Series dp598, The Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
  • Handle: RePEc:huj:dispap:dp598

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dean P. Foster & Sergiu Hart, 2009. "An Operational Measure of Riskiness," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 117(5), pages 785-814.
    2. Robert J. Aumann & Roberto Serrano, 2008. "An Economic Index of Riskiness," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 116(5), pages 810-836, October.
    3. Sergiu Hart, 2011. "Comparing Risks by Acceptance and Rejection," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 119(4), pages 617-638.
    4. G. Hanoch & H. Levy, 1969. "The Efficiency Analysis of Choices Involving Risk," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 36(3), pages 335-346.
    5. Hart, Sergiu & Foster, Dean P., 2013. "A wealth-requirement axiomatization of riskiness," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 8(2), May.
    6. Hadar, Josef & Russell, William R, 1969. "Rules for Ordering Uncertain Prospects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 59(1), pages 25-34, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sheremeta, Roman, 2015. "Behavior in Group Contests: A Review of Experimental Research," MPRA Paper 67515, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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    altruism; oxytocin; vasopressin; intergroup cooperation; nested social dilemma;

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