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The Neuroeconomics of Trust

  • Paul J. Zak

    (Claremont Graduate University)

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    The traditional view in economics is that individuals respond to incentives, but absent strong incentives to the contrary selfishness prevails. Moreover, this “greed is good” approach is deemed “rational” behavior. Nevertheless, in daily interactions and in numerous laboratory studies, a high degree of cooperative behavior prevails—even among strangers. A possible explanation for the substantial amount of “irrational” behavior observed in markets (and elsewhere) is that humans are a highly social species and to an extent value what other humans think of them. This behavior can be termed trustworthiness—cooperating when someone places trust in us. I also analyze the cross-country evidence for environments that produce high or low trust. A number of recent experiments from my lab have demonstrated that the neuroactive hormone oxytocin facilitates trust between strangers, and appears to induce trustworthiness. In rodents, oxytocin has been associated with maternal bonding, pro-social behaviors, and in some species long-term pair bonds, but prior to the work reviewed here, the behavioral effects of oxytocin in humans had not been studied. This presentation discusses the neurobiology of positive social behaviors and how these are facilitated by oxytocin. My experiments show that positive social signals cause oxytocin to be released by the brain, producing an unconscious attachment to a stranger. I also discuss recent research that manipulates oxytocin levels, and functional brain imaging research on trust.

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    Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Experimental with number 0507004.

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    Length: 24 pages
    Date of creation: 21 Jul 2005
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpex:0507004
    Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 24
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    1. McCabe, Kevin & Houser, Daniel & Ryan, Lee & Smith, Vernon & Trouard, Ted, 2001. "A Functional Imaging Study of Cooperation in Two-Person reciprocal Exchange," MPRA Paper 5172, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Bruno S. Frey & Matthias Benz & Alois Stutzer, 2003. "Introducing Procedural Utility: Not only What, but also How Matters," CREMA Working Paper Series 2003-02, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
    3. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
    4. Nancy Buchan & Rachel Croson, 1999. "Gender and Culture: International Experimental Evidence from Trust Games," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 386-391, May.
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