How oxytocin is shaking up the field of economics

Michael Haederle in Miller-McCune:

090120oxytocin The neuroeconomist Paul Zak is driving west along Interstate 10 on a gorgeous Southern California morning. As we pass emerald hillsides, glowing from recent rains, and the snow-blanketed ridges of the San Gabriel Mountains, Zak talks about how standard economics neglects the biological mechanisms of trust that underlie myriad human interactions. “Why people cooperate — why people are altruistic — is a huge question,” he says. “When you think about how much of the world works on a handshake or on holding a door open for somebody in an airport, all that kind of falls through the cracks in economics.”

Zak and his collaborators at Claremont Graduate University have found that oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain that promotes human bonding, plays a powerful role in shaping how generous people are. He calls it “the moral molecule.” “It’s a whole different model,” Zak says. “It tells us why global commerce works — because there is a motivation to reciprocate.”

People release oxytocin (pronounced ok-si-toh-sun) in settings that promote feelings of trust and safety, Zak has found, and their behavior becomes more trusting and generous in return. He envisions workplaces structured to reinforce this cycle.

More here.