Michael Haederle in Miller-McCune:
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.