Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism

Carsten K.W. De Dreu, Lindred L. Greer, Gerben A. Van Kleef, Shaul Shalvi, Michel J.J. Handgraaf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

542 Scopus citations

Abstract

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 withingroup 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1262-1266
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume108
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 25 Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Endocrinology
  • Evolution
  • Hormones
  • Moral dilemmas
  • Social discrimination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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