According to a study carried out by the University of Bonn in Germany, giving people oxytocin and exposing them to some “positive social pressure” can make them be kinder toward refugees, even if they are afraid of them.
Oxytocin is a hormone that is naturally released in the blood and brains of mammals during sexual and social behavior. It is sometimes called the “cuddle hormone,” and it is produced by women in labor to help them to bond with their new babies. Research shows it can help breed generosity and trust in other people, so the scientists set out to see if it could be an effective way for people to be more accepting of migrants.
In one experiment, researchers showed the study’s 183 German participants 50 true stories about people in need. The accounts were presented as text on a screen and described poor people’s personal needs. Half of them were said to be refugees and the other half were German natives, and the needs were in accordance with the UN’s minimum standards for having a safe and dignified life, such as access to housing, food and participation in social life. The stories said, for example, that the person needed money to buy fresh fruit or fish at the grocery store.
The participants were given a total of 50 Euros and were allowed to decide how much to donate to each individual in a range from 0 to 1 Euro. They would be allowed to keep any money left over. In the first experiment, the subjects donated around 20 percent more money to refugees than they did to needy people locally, surprising the researchers.
In a second experiment, researchers measured participants’ personal attitudes toward refugees. Afterward, they were divided into two groups, one of which was given a nasal spray of oxytocin. The other group was given a placebo.
Both groups then carried out the donation task from the first experiment, reading short stories about people’s needs and donating to them as they saw fit. Those who had been administered oxytocin and had displayed a positive initial attitude toward refugees donated twice as much to locals and refugees alike.
This effect was not seen in those who had earlier showed a more defensive attitude toward migrants. These people tended to donate very little to refugees as well as locals. This prompted one of the study’s authors to remark that oxytocin boosts generosity toward those in need only when a person already has altruistic tendencies; it cannot create such feelings in people who are not predisposed to feeling that way.
However, a third experiment found that positive social cues could boost generosity among participants who were not very welcoming of refugees at first. In this task, the donation stories were accompanied by the average donation given by their peers in the first experiment. Once again, half of the subjects were given oxytocin and the other half received a placebo.
In this case, even those who showed a negative attitude toward migrants donated as much as 74 percent more money to refugees than they had in the earlier round.
The researchers said they believed that people in a position of trust in a community who display a positive attitude toward refugees publicly can help inspire others to help. Moreover, they added that oxytocin could help skeptics become less anxious and more trusting.
It’s not quite clear where this is headed, but the mind control overtones of this study are disturbing to say the least. Will oxytocin start showing up in the local water so that people will be more accepting and generous? What else could this approach be used to lull the masses into accepting?