Intergroup conflict is often driven by an individual's motivation to protect oneself and fellow group members against the threat of out-group aggression, including the tendency to pre-empt out-group threat through a competitive approach. Here we link such defense-motivated competition to oxytocin, a hypothalamic neuropeptide involved in reproduction and social bonding. An intergroup conflict game was developed to disentangle whether oxytocin motivates competitive approach to protect (i) immediate self-interest, (ii) vulnerable in-group members, or (iii) both. Males self-administered oxytocin or placebo (double-blind placebo-controlled) and made decisions with financial consequences to themselves, their fellow in-group members, and a competing out-group. Game payoffs were manipulated between-subjects so that non-cooperation by the out-group had high vs. low impact on personal payoff (personal vulnerability), and high vs. low impact on payoff to fellow in-group members (in-group vulnerability). When personal vulnerability was high, non-cooperation was unaffected by treatment and in-group vulnerability. When personal vulnerability was low, however, in-group vulnerability motivated non-cooperation but only when males received oxytocin. Oxytocin fuels a defense-motivated competitive approach to protect vulnerable group members, even when personal fate is not at stake.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)