Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The biology of trust

The book "The moral molecule" by Paul Zak is a great book discussing the research on the relation between oxytocin and decision making. Using the trust game and measurements of oxytocin in the blood before and after decisions are make, dr. Zak shows that a higher increase with oxytocin correlates with higher levels of trust. By artificially increasing oxytocin levels participants increase their level of cooperation in experimental games. Dr. Zak also did experiments with non-traditional groups such as people who are abused, religious groups, and tribes in Papua New Guinea.
The result is a fascinating discussion how hormone levels like oxytocin and testosterone affect decision making. These hormone levels are defined by genetics, social context and change during the life cycle of our lives. A better understanding how hormone levels, due to frequent hugging as practiced in the lab of dr. Zak, affect decision making has consequences how we organize our social interactions. Although new technologies lead to "social snacking" they do not replace the biological responses to physical and face-to-face contacts with other people. If we want to cope with increasingly complex collective action problems at higher levels of scale we need to take into account the biological context of our decision making next to the efficiency of information exchange by the new technologies.