Oxytocin promotes intuitive rather than deliberated cooperation with the in-group

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A contribution to a special issue on Hormones and Human Competition.

In intergroup settings, individuals prefer cooperating with their in-group, and sometimes derogate and punish out-groups. Here we replicate earlier work showing that such in-group bounded cooperation is conditioned by oxytocin and extend it by showing that oxytocin-motivated in-group cooperation is intuitive rather than deliberated. Healthy males (N = 65) and females (N = 129) self-administered intranasal placebo or 24 IU oxytocin in a double-blind placebo-controlled between-subjects design, were assigned to a three-person in-group (that faced a 3-person out-group), and given an endowment from which they could contribute to a within-group pool (benefitting the in-group), and/or to a between-group pool (benefitting the in-group and punishing the out-group). Prior to decision-making, participants performed a Stroop Interference task that was either cognitively taxing, or not. Cognitively taxed individuals kept less to themselves and contributed more to the within-group pool. Furthermore, participants receiving placebo contributed more to the within-group pool when they were cognitively taxed rather than not; those receiving oxytocin contributed to the within-group pool regardless of cognitive taxation. Neither taxation nor treatment influenced contributions to the between-group pool, and no significant sex differences were observed. It follows that in intergroup settings (i) oxytocin increases in-group bounded cooperation, (ii) oxytocin neither reduces nor increases out-group directed spite, and (iii) oxytocin-induced in-group cooperation is independent of cognitive taxation and, therefore, likely to be intuitive rather than consciously deliberated.

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