Trust, Morality and Oxytocin
For the fourth and last part of our series on the nature of trust, I would like to draw attention to a great TED talk by Paul Zak titled “Trust, Morality and Oxytocin.” In this talk, Zak examines what drives moral decision making and describes biological factors that determine whether humans behave trustworthy or not.
What did he find? In his search for a “moral molecule”, Zak found oxytocin, a hormone that is produced in specific situations in the brain and the blood. With his experiments, he was able to show that people’s trustworthiness and the level of oxytocin in their blood are directly connected. However not only trustworthiness, but also feelings of empathy are promoted by oxytocin. As Zak states:
It’s empathy that makes us connect to other people. It’s empathy that makes us help other people. It’s empathy that makes us moral.
One aspect I found most fascinating about his findings was that when we connect with other people, in person or even through social media, our level of oxytocin spikes – thus leading to more trustworthy behavior.
Even though one should be careful in reducing questions of trust and morality to their biological causes, what can we conclude from this? As Zak would argue, the more we connect with other people and the more relationships we build, the more trustworthy we behave and – ultimately – the more happy we will be. As for promoting trustworthy behavior amongst strangers on the Web, connecting through social media seems to be a good way to start.
Do these ideas fascinate you as much as me? Then you should definitely watch the full talk above.
Paul J. Zak is Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University. He has dedicated his studies to Macroeconomics, Finance and Neuroscience and published the book “Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy” in 2008, which reflects his interest in investigating the connections between morality and economic decision making.