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Oxytocin Conditions Intergroup Relations Through Upregulated In-Group Empathy, Cooperation, Conformity, and Defense

  • Carsten K.W. De Dreu
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Carsten K.W. De Dreu, University of Amsterdam, Department of Psychology, Weesperplein 4, Amsterdam 1018, The Netherlands.
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

    Center for Experimental Economics and Political Decision Making, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

    Amsterdam Brain and Cognition, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
    Search for articles by this author
  • Mariska E. Kret
    Affiliations
    Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

    Amsterdam Brain and Cognition, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
    Search for articles by this author

      Abstract

      Humans live in, rely on, and contribute to groups. Evolution may have biologically prepared them to quickly identify others as belonging to the in-group (vs. not), to decode emotional states, and to empathize with in-group members; to learn and conform to group norms and cultural practices; to extend and reciprocate trust and cooperation; and to aggressively protect the in-group against outside threat. We review evidence that these components of human group psychology rest on and are modulated by the hypothalamic neuropeptide oxytocin. It appears that oxytocin motivates and enables humans to 1) like and empathize with others in their groups, 2) comply with group norms and cultural practices, and 3) extend and reciprocate trust and cooperation, which may give rise to intergroup discrimination and sometimes defensive aggression against threatening (members of) out-groups. We explore the possibility that deficiencies in (components of) group psychology, seen in autistic spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and borderline personality and social anxiety disorders, may be reduced by oxytocin administration. Avenues for new research are highlighted, and implications for the role of oxytocin in cooperation and competition within and between groups are discussed.

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