Oxytocin motivates non-cooperation in intergroup conflict to protect vulnerable in-group members

Oxytocin motivates non-cooperation in intergroup conflict to protect vulnerable in-group members

By
Carsten De Dreu, Shaul Shalvi, Lindred Leura Greer, Gerben Van Kleef, Michel Handgraaf
PLoS One.
2012, Vol. 7, Issue 11, Pages e46751

Intergroup conflict is often driven by an individual’s motivation to protect oneself and fellow group members against the threat of out-group aggression, including the tendency to pre-empt out-group threat through a competitive approach. Here we link such defense-motivated competition to oxytocin, a hypothalamic neuropeptide involved in reproduction and social bonding. An intergroup conflict game was developed to disentangle whether oxytocin motivates competitive approach to protect (i) immediate self-interest, (ii) vulnerable in-group members, or (iii) both. Males self-administered oxytocin or placebo (double-blind placebo-controlled) and made decisions with financial consequences to themselves, their fellow in-group members, and a competing out-group. Game payoffs were manipulated between-subjects so that non-cooperation by the out-group had high vs. low impact on personal payoff (personal vulnerability), and high vs. low impact on payoff to fellow in-group members (in-group vulnerability). When personal vulnerability was high, non-cooperation was unaffected by treatment and in-group vulnerability. When personal vulnerability was low, however, in-group vulnerability motivated non-cooperation but only when males received oxytocin. Oxytocin fuels a defense-motivated competitive approach to protect vulnerable group members, even when personal fate is not at stake.