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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More on the Science of Oxytocin

Researchers have known for some time that when people spend a few minutes writing about a value that's important to them, they become more receptive and less defensive when someone later criticizes an aspect of their behavior as irrational, irresponsible, or unhealthy. The guess was that writing about these values boosted self-esteem, making people feel good about themselves and less defensive, but studies failed to find the link.
Now, Jennifer Crocker and Yu Niiya from the University of Michigan and Dominik Mischkowski from the University of Konstanz in Germany think they've uncovered the mechanism behind the process with new experiments that looked at how people feel after they write about their values: Instead of making people focus on themselves, writing about important values makes people feel loving and connected, reminding them of people and things they care about beyond themselves. These feelings of love and connectedness could affect levels of the hormone oxytocin, increasing the sense of trust (which we wrote about yesterday) and possibly accounting for the reduced defensiveness when it comes to criticizing their behavior.
The new studies, the researchers conclude in the current issue of Psychological Science, "raise the prospect that reminding people what they love or care about may enable them to transcend the self and may foster learning under difficult circumstances." —Heather Wax


Susan Kuchinskas said...

I completely agree with you. I thought the same thing when I read about the earlier study.

Paul Zak's experiments in which people engage in trusting interactions via a computer shows that we don't need to be face-to-face to feel trust and connection. It makes sense that reflecting on shared values could also trigger an oxytocin release.