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Biotech Science

Trust in a Bottle 658

flosofl writes "The BBC has a report on oxytocin and its ability to skew our trust levels. 'The participants in the study played a game, in which they were split into "investors" and "trustees." The investors were then given credits and told they could chose whether to hand over zero, four, eight or 12 credits to their assigned trustee.' Some of the investors were given oxytocin via nasal spray. The results were surprising: 'Of 29 investors who were given oxytocin, 13 (45%) displayed "maximal trust" by choosing to invest highly, compared to six (21%) of the 29 investors who were given the dummy spray.' When the trustee was a computer, there was no difference between the two test groups."
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Trust in a Bottle

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  • by drsmack1 ( 698392 ) * on Thursday June 02, 2005 @09:58PM (#12710422)
    When the trustee was a computer, there was no difference between the two test groups."

    Except they were *way* cooler....
    • Droid trustee? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by djward ( 251728 )
      "These aren't the droids you're looking for." Obi-Wan palmed a spraycan of Oxitocin and waved it around. "He can go about his business."
      The stormtrooper stared blankly at Kenobi, as his masks surgery-room-grade air scrubbers quietly filtered the chemical. A second more, and he decided the old man was bullshitting him. A quick signal and a short hail of blaster fire later, the occupants of the speeder were smoldering corpses, and the droids were in the care of a professional deprogrammer.

      Doesn't ha
  • Too Small of a Test (Score:4, Informative)

    by rhino_badlands ( 449954 ) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @09:59PM (#12710435) Homepage
    For this to really be worked out you need to do multiple test on a much larger scale. The people in the one group could have just been suckers.
    • Agree. I'm guessing that 6 is just about 1 std deviation below the mean and 13 is just about 1 std deviation above the mean. Not a compelling result at all, particularly if this is a two-tailed test.
      • by NoData ( 9132 ) < minus author> on Thursday June 02, 2005 @11:25PM (#12711047)
        What mean? Mean of what?
        29 people is plenty of subjects for a reliable statistical test. The t distribution is about equivalent to the normal distribution at about 30 samples. 30 samples is about the usual rule of thumb for adequate power for a cell in a behavioral experiment. But, you know, it really depends on the effect size of whatever you're studying.

        Anyway, the right test to do here, just from the tiny snippet of info we're given about the study is a chi square test. According to TFA, a subject could invest 0, 4, 8, or 12 credits. If we assume that we would expect a uniform distribution of investment across these levels (and I don't know if that's a fair distrubtion to assume, perhaps normal is better--you'd expect more people to invest middle amounts than extremes, perhaps), then we expect 7.25 people to fall in each of the 4 cells. For just the oxytocin condition, they report 13 people invested 12 credits. Let's assume that the remaining 16 subjects were evenly distributed among the 0, 4. and 8 investment levels. That means 5 1/3 people in each of those cells. With those data, the chi square test gives you a p value of .11 (Chi sqaure score of 6.08), which means a less than 11% chance of getting these results just by chance. That's not exactly meeting the 5% standard alpha level for significance, but then again, I've made some horrible simplifying assumptions that stack the deck against significance. Besides my made up data, I'm sure there's a repeated measures component to this study...I doubt each subject had to only make ONE investment decision in the whole experiment. The repeated measures would lend a lot more power.
        • Thanks for agreeing with me. Given the number of experiments done nowadays, we'd have hundreds of experiments significant at the 11% level every day even if there were no effects at all. Nothing to see here until it is confirmed by theory.
          • This work would not be published if the results were not statistically reliable. The point of my post was that first, an N of 29 is pretty common for this sort of study, and second, even with the crudest back-of-the-envelope stats they have a pretty convincing trend. I am sure the real data are much better.

            Theory, btw, does not confirm data. Data confirms theory. And there is, nevertheless, a lot theory as well as data regarding oxytocin's effects on stimulating maternal instincts, empathy, and affectio
    • by Joe Random ( 777564 ) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @10:08PM (#12710509)
      For this to really be worked out you need to do multiple test on a much larger scale.
      Trust me, 29 people is more than enough to obtain statistically-significant results. Now where's my Oxytocin....
    • I remember reading an article in Discover that oxytocin had been identified as a hormone responsible for monogamy.

      IIRC, there were two species of voles. One monogamous, one not. The monogamous ones had high levels of oxytocin, the licentious ones, low.

      When the species with low levels of oxytocin were injected with oxytocin they became monogamous.

      Pretty straightforward cause and effect.
  • Websters defines trust as the act of trusting.

    How many people are led down the primrose path to Hell by some friend or lover who we trusted completely? Whether it be some sort of suddent infidelity or a constant wearing down of trust, that person eventually broke our trust.

    Now, in the light of our experience, we look at all of our future relationships through the darkened glass of failed trust. Is it any wonder that half of all marriages end in divorce now? We can't open our hearts to those we love 100
  • But one expert warned it could be misused by politicians who want to persuade more people to back them.

    For some reason I picture Honor Blackman flying over the electorate on election day, spraying this 'trust potion' from light aircraft.
  • by drsmack1 ( 698392 ) * on Thursday June 02, 2005 @10:00PM (#12710445)
    Oxytocin scented heavy duty condoms; sold at truck stops everywhere!
  • A match made in Heaven. Nevermind the uses in schools, stores, and indoctrination centers like national political and Amway conventions
  • by Sv-Manowar ( 772313 ) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @10:01PM (#12710455) Homepage Journal

    Its interesting that when a computer was the trustee, there was no measured effect from the oxytocin. If this effect is replicated for all non-human interaction, then the use of this on a larger scale would seem to be limited. However, there are interesting repercussions for the use of this kind of thing in business negotiations, where there can be control over the environment and a degree of trust could have a vital swing in decisions made

    Being able to 'over-ride the fear of being betrayed', as it is put in the article could be a powerful factor in swaying decisions, and I would hope that by the time of any mass-market availability or application that ways and means of testing would be available for those environments that require 100% impartiality.

    • Now the big question becomes:

      Can useful amounts of Oxycontin be absorbed through the skin
      (think drug coated pens, door knobs, etc)

      Q. But why not just dope their drinks?
      A. because that would be stupid

      I guess the other big question is why not just use LSD.

  • The lengths some people will go to to get published.
  • by sH4RD ( 749216 ) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @10:02PM (#12710462) Homepage
    29 huh? Doesn't that seem a little low for good experimental results? I mean, 13 to 6 isin't really that signifigant of a number in the long run. I'll wait to judge until this study is repeated.
    • by tktk ( 540564 )
      I used to be in a graduate psychology program.

      If it was a social psych. experiment, 29 participants would have been considered enough. I have no idea why.

      I was in developmental psych. and was expected to get a minimum of 200 participants for my own study. Likewise, people in the cogntive psych. program had to get 100 or more participants.

    • by Skippy_kangaroo ( 850507 ) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @10:33PM (#12710702)
      Not necessarily.

      The standard deviation of a binomial distribution is sqrt(n.p.(1-p)) where n is the number of subjects and p is the probability of maximal trust.

      Thus, out of a sample of 29 people and with p=0.21 the standard deviation is 2.2.

      Thus, 13 is 3.2 standard deviations away from 6. There is only a 0.07% chance that these are from the same distribution.

      Thus, they can conclusively conclude that this spray had a statistically significant effect on trust.

      You can make it more complicated if you wish but the basic fact remains that you can get statistically significant results from small samples. In this case there is only a 0.07% chance that they are wrong.

      • by yali ( 209015 ) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @10:56PM (#12710858)
        The experimenters reported p=.029 (one-tailed) with their results. If you accept the one-tailed test, it is "statistically significant" by conventional standards.

        And N=58 (29 people per group) is pretty typical for single studies in the behavioral sciences. Ultimately, the grandparent is right -- this needs to be replicated. But that's true of single studies in any scientific field, no matter the sample size or p-value. This is an exciting enough discovery that you can bet lots of scientists are going to try to replicate it.

      • Thus, out of a sample of 29 people and with p=0.21 the standard deviation is 2.2.

        This is where statistics lie, if not intentionally.

        If everyone had the same DNA, and lived in the same environment, and had the same histories, then a test with 29 subjects might be conclusive.

        But, since we don't all have the same DNA, live in the same environment, and had the same histories, oxytocin reacts slightly differently in all of us.

        Still, this study is interesting enough to warrant a larger study.
        • Huh?

          One point of running studies with more than one N is to attempt to generalize to the sample population.

          Those 29 people are representative of some group that has statistically meaningful differences after exposure to Oxytocin.
    • Doubt the results eh? Here - sniff this spray...

      Now doesn't 29 seem like a perfectly acceptable number of participants for an experiment like this? Yes, I thought you'd think so.

  • Whatever happened to that "smell-o-vision"-type odiferous computer add-on from a few years back? Is this the trick that Bill will use to keep us using Windows?

    Seriously though, odours *are* powerful memory triggers. "Deja-Pew", sort of.
  • Well, duh... The 'unwashed masses' have never been trust worthy... Who will you trust better: A doctor smelling of ether, or a doctor smelling of cheap wine?
  • I know about a great investment opportunity in Nigerian gold which involves extremely complex financial transactions to offshore accounts! It's certainly not a pyramid scheme and it comes with a free nasal spray!

    Humor impaired moderators: the preceding was an attempt at humor.

    • I just tried your free nasal spray. Your investment opportunity sounds great! Normally, I'd ask my financial advisor before making a decision, but I trust you, and I'm ready to email you my bank acct #, DOB, SSN, and mom's maiden name.
  • For a second there I thought they were talking about oxycontin. High on that you might trust anyone.
  • Isn't this a hormone supposedly released during the female orgasm?
    • by ultramk ( 470198 ) <ultramk&pacbell,net> on Thursday June 02, 2005 @10:22PM (#12710629)
      It's released a lot of times... usually during intimacy.

      it's released:
      - during sex
      - when a mother holds her baby
      - when nursing
      - when two people are holding each other

      I had a professor who called it "the Cuddle Drug". It's been thought to play a major part of the "bonding" process, parent/child as well as romantic relationships.

      And no, it's not Oxycontin, which is a completely different thing.

      • it's released:

        - during sex
        - when a mother holds her baby
        - when nursing
        - when two people are holding each other

        Even when politicians embrace for the cameras?

        Why, all of a sudden, do I have 15 slashdot cookies and have to login to each section in order to comment? Are marketdroids at work in Taco's basement?
  • Unless you want a tinfoil gas mask or water purifier.
  • by gnovos ( 447128 ) <> on Thursday June 02, 2005 @10:10PM (#12710521) Homepage Journal
    I'm curious how this affects the "trust level" of people who were previously burned, especially by the person you are expected to trust. Is it just automatic, or do you still have some ability to balance it... If not, this could turn out to be the holy grail for all kinds of good and evil purposes.
    • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday June 03, 2005 @01:24AM (#12711603) Homepage Journal
      It is entirely plausible that people who are naturally charismatic are somehow making use of this mechanism. However, such people are often excused of wrongdoing by followers - including those followers who are burned, strongly suggesting that personal injury and self-preservation are NOT factors.

      Since the effect seems to be producable by a spray, it is entirely possible that the human body releases low levels of this stuff naturally. If that is indeed the case, it might be interesting to see what the levels are around "in person" celebrities - stage performers, those politicians who mingle with the crowd, etc. My guess would be that people who make it in such environments differ at this kind of chemical level from those who prefer to be kept at a distance (it's hard to see how chemical traces could get through a movie screen, for example).

      My guess would also be that cult settings include (by accident or design) an exceptionally high concentration of this chemical. If you think about the "stereotypical" settings for such things, you are generally looking at highly charismatic people (see above theory), and very probably a high usage of all kinds of evaporating oils, incence, perfumes, etc. In such a setting, the adding of something that lowered mental resistance would seem to be more of a question of what form it took, rather than whether it was being done.

      Despite the First and Seventh Amendments, I would think that it would be a very good idea to ban the willful use of any chemical that impairs reasoning or ability to trust, especially in any religious or political situation where abuse has the potential to be monsterous.

      I would also suggest that the law on such matters as criminal insanity be adjusted to allow for this finding, as it would seem possible that a person's ability to tell right from wrong, or make rational judgements as to who to believe on certain matters, would be impaired only in the presence of the person they were around at the time, making it impossible for an independent psychologist to accurately assess the state of mind under laboratory conditions.

      It would seem a grave miscarriage of justice to allow serious abusers of human chemical imperetives to be utterly free and lawfully able to continue that abuse, no matter what the consequences. Likewise, it would also seem to be a grave miscarriage of justice if victims of that abuse could be imprisoned or executed because the law had failed to recognize the reality and implications of that abuse.

      This is not to sat that all criminals are really innocent victims, but rather that some unknown percentage may well be, especially where cults and charismatics are concerned. I think that the authorities should be taking this seriously. At least, more seriously and more rapidly than said cults and charismatics are.

    • This could be like the Date-rape drug. A friend of mine was slipped that drug in his drink in Barcelona. He ended up handing over his laptop, his cell phone, and his wallet to a perfect stranger. Now, that effect could be construed as trust, or it could be construed as turning off all reasoning abilities. But I guess, from the perspective of a pharmacological company, they might prefer call it "trust" instead.

      In any case, that drug really fucked him up, it messed with his digestive system for those next th

  • that Oxycontin skews our trust levels.

    Maybe it's the abscence of oxycontin that skews our trust levels to the negative.

    If you ask people, they SAY they would prefer to live in a more trusting world. To the extent we can choose our attitudes instead of having our attitudes chosen by survival instinct would be a good thing.

    Wait. I'd better call my broker and ask him how that VA software stock I bought is doing.

  • From the article:

    When trustees were replaced by a computer, the oxytocin effect was no longer seen on the investors.

    I find this fact to be of most interest.

    But the question is, how was the computer being operated? was there a human typing things to the investors through a computer, or was it an AI asking various preprogrammed lines of questions and taking various approaches? The difference being, if its a human operating the computer (one of the same humans that were getting higher trust responses whe
  • What about putting this substance in food.

    I think we should be careful about the food we consume at political events!!

    On a serious note, [tinfoilhat] certain groups within the government (both her and in the UK) have a long long history of seeking behavioural modification drugs that affect the actions of people without a discernable altering series of symptoms.

    I have a video of UK soldiers who were being filmed on training missions after receiving LSD unknowingly. In this case, they were given way too mu
  • $5.50 for 20 I.U. [] "Keep out of reach of children".

    Go get it all you /. virgins and dyslexic dopeheads!
  • That Rush Limbaugh is a very trusting fat, pasty white guy.
    • How many more people are going to forget how to read and think it's the wrong drug?

      You're only about the 60th person so far, so at least you're not the only asshat.
  • Was this term defined before the data were collected? With multiple levels of trust (0/4/8/12), it's pretty easy find an effect if you decide what's an effect after you are looking at the data. Why is it significant that more "invested highly"? Did fewer also "invest lowly"?

    So many numbers, so little time.

  • Never make important decisions based on emotion. Decisions based on fear, anger, hate, love, trust.

    One of the most important decisions is voting.

    I'm very proud of my sensible Dutch countrymen and I'm very disappointed in the easy-to-fool half of the USA.

    Did I just make you feel an emotion? Envy? self-righteousness?
    • Oh, and what I forgot to say. What you SHOULD do is compare the arguments of a topic, reject the bogus arguments immediately and make a decision based on logic using the other arguments.

      You have my permission to not trust the man/woman who gives too many false arguments.

      That is all.
  • by Jerk City Troll ( 661616 ) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @10:29PM (#12710672) Homepage

    This hormone is produced when female nipples are stimulated []. Maybe you guys can get her to trust you.

  • This will be useful in preliminary interrogation.
  • There's simply no way this is possible. It's rediculous. Hold on, there's a knock at my door.

    Like I was saying, you have to really trust a source like the BBC.
  • IIRC, women get a massive burst of oxytocin when giving birth, thus bonding them with their infant. Clever evolutionary strategy, since it makes it more likely that one parent will take care of the kid.

    My wife thinks our son can do no wrong. Me, I wonder when he's going to get a Real Job. Feh.

  • ...hasn't beer been having this effect for years? :-)
  • "The BBC has a report on oxytocin and its ability to skew our trust levels. "

    I'm not sure I trust the reporting. Wait, let me take some oxytocin....Ah, that's better. My, what a great news story! I can easily see how its conclusions fit reality.

  • ... that oxytocin is also the main drug used in inducing labor [], usually for moms who aren't delivering fast enough for the doctor to make their tee time.

  • According to the wikipedia []:

    in lactating (breastfeeding) mothers, oxytocin stimulates myoepithelial cells, causing milk to be ejected into the ducts of the mammary glands.

    So, if you are worried about being affected by this hormone in public gatherings, just stand near a group of lactating women. If they all start leaking milk, you've been hit.

  • I certainly would not perscribe oxytocin for these purposes. Oxytocin is typically used to induce labor and reduce postpartum bleeding.

    In terms of mechanism of action, during pregnancy, oxytocin receptors in the uterus are up-regulated and the release of oxytocin from the posterior pituitary results in one of the few positive feedback mechanisms in the human body.

    Despite this, the role of oxytocin in normal labor is uncertain.

    We certainly do not want to be using it for "trust" if we do not even know how
  • Aside from the writeup containing a blatant misrepresentation of the facts (not that that should be surprising on /.):

    When the trustee was a computer, there was no difference between the two test groups."


    In addition, when trustees were replaced by a computer, the oxytocin effect was no longer seen on the investors.

    Further, the speculations of Dr. Damasio border on paranoia:

    Some may worry about the prospect that political operators will generously spray the crowd with oxytocin at rallies of th

  • Do you want to install and run "Microsoft DRM" signed on 6/1/2005 3:40 PM and distributed by

    Microsoft Corporation

    Publisher authenticity verified by Microsoft Windows Verification Intermediate PCA

    Caution: Microsoft Coperation asserts that this content is safe. You should only install/view this content if you trust Microsoft Corporation to make that assertion.

    [ ] Always trust content from Microsoft Corporation


    (hey, what's that coming out of the computer?)

    (Something smells f
  • 1. Do a test confirming that oxytocin makes people dumber
    2. Launch large scale manufacturing of oxytocin impregnated sprays to be used in conference rooms nationwide
    3. Profit!
  • before we start receving Oxytocin spam? Or its superior herbal equivalent Oxial1s?

  • I don't see why this is so surprising... many frat boys use another drug, alcohol, to gain the trust of their female cohorts. What I'm wondering is if this Oxytocin has any noticable side effects, like intoxication. Also, if it is the same drug that is released by the body during human bonding experiences, it would seem to me that it's effects would be longer lasting.

  • Ordell Robbie []: You can't trust Melanie but you can trust Melanie to be Melanie.
  • According to WordNet:-


    n : hormone secreted by the posterior pituitary gland (trade name Pitocin); stimulates contractions of the uterus and ejection of milk [syn: Pitocin]

Never say you know a man until you have divided an inheritance with him.