Exposure to the common hormone oxytocin, which is associated with feelings of trust and pleasure, makes people more likely to trust their government. A scientist says he's proven that authorities could use hormones, rather than promises, to gain public trust.
On NPR yesterday, Alix Spiegel spoke with several experts who study what makes some brains more trusting than others. Neuroscientist Paul Zak described an experiment he conducted recently, where he quizzed two groups about their trust in government: a group that had just snorted oxytocin, and a control group that had snorted a placebo. Said Zak:
The people on oxytocin did report that they trusted other people more, and the people who trusted others more also trusted their government more. So it's sort of a two-step process.
He added that trust in government might be low right now in the United States because the recession is causing stress. And stress kills oxytocin:
So the underlying biological hypothesis is that stress — particularly stress that does not have a clear ending point — inhibits oxytocin release. So there could be an actual biological reason why trust in government is so low.
Other scientists, however, think Zak is full of crap. Listen to the full story: