In an experiment to examine the effects of the hormone oxytocin on social interaction, neuroeconomist Paul Zak made some interesting discoveries.
For the purposes of the study they chose to look specifically at the effects of oxytocin on trustworthiness. Zak and his team discovered that higher levels of oxytocin increases both trustworthiness and generosity.
The study also discovered a direct correlation between oxytocin levels and empathy. This latter was the factor they felt most contributed to changes in behaviour. The more we feel someone else’s pain or need or suffering, the more likely we are to want to alleviate it and take action.
During the experiment the researchers raised the oxytocin levels of the subjects by administering oxytocin using a nasal spray. But it seems that our bodies will also release extra oxytocin as a result of various activities like praying, hugging and massage. Social situations and interactions with others have a particular effect on our oxytocin levels. When we take part in important social rituals like weddings, or even when we connect with close friends via social media, like Facebook, our oxytocin levels rise.
Our capacity to release oxytocin is inhibited by a variety of things – very poor nurturing, stress and testosterone – for example. But for 95% of us, it is the hormone that helps connect us with other people and it can be released simply by interacting with others and most especially by hugging.
As a result of his research, Paul Zak’s prescription for happiness and a better world is specifically eight hugs a day.
It seems to me like that might be worth a try. At the very least it should make international relations interesting…
Photograph – Title: Jubilant American soldier hugs motherly English woman and victory smiles light the faces of happy service men and civilians at Piccadilly Circus, London, celebrating Germany’s unconditional surrender. England, May 7, 1945.
Creator(s): Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. (09/18/1947 – 02/28/1964)
Most of us try to be trustworthy ourselves and we look for it in others. When other people fail to be worthy of our trust, we chide ourselves for trusting and determine never to trust anyone ever again.
Maybe there’ s another way to look at it.
Clearly it’s foolish to insist that trustworthiness exists when we have evidence to the contrary – however the solution is not to stop trusting.
It’s like fool’s gold.
If you were a miner who found some iron pyrite and mistook it for gold, the experience might make you a little more circumspect the next time you thought you’d hit the mother-lode, but it wouldn’t stop you mining and looking for real gold.
Because you’d know that real gold also exists and is worth the search. Just like trustworthiness.
And who knows, given that human beings respond so often to expectation, perhaps searching for trustworthiness can also actually help it to develop in places it has shaky roots?
Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him. – Booker T. Washington
* Photograph – Uniformed Mail Carrier with Child in Mail Bag, c.1913 – USA National Postal Museum – After parcel post service was introduced in 1913, at least two children were sent by the service. With stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination. The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples.
Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle said, We are not studying in order to know what virtue is, but to become good, for otherwise there would be no profit in it. (1)
The acquisition of virtues is not an antiquated mode of being, it’s a vital framework for human life. Virtues are like instructions in a manual for living productively. We think of things like love and kindness and loyalty and trustworthiness as pleasant optional extras that will make our lives more pleasant – but they are much more than that. Cultivating real virtues – not nominal ones – creates the environment necessary for spectacular human growth. And that, as Aristotle might have said, is where the profit in virtue exists.
…for the human reality may be compared to a seed. If we sow the seed, a mighty tree appears from it. The virtues of the seed are revealed in the tree; it puts forth branches, leaves, blossoms, and produces fruits. All these virtues were hidden and potential in the seed. Through the blessing and bounty of cultivation these virtues became apparent. (2)