Effects of Oxytocin Administration on Receiving Help

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Abstract

Receiving help can be a “mixed blessing.” Despite the many psychosocial benefits it can carry, it sometimes has negative psychological consequences, such as loss in self-esteem or enhanced guilt. It is, therefore, important to understand the factors that modify responses to receiving help from others. We explored the role of the hormone oxytocin (OT) on affective and social responses to receiving help, given the putative role of OT in social bonding and attunement. To this end, we manipulated whether help was received from a same-sex interaction partner (confederate) versus a control condition, crossed with a double-blind administration of intranasal OT (vs. placebo), and examined subjective and observer-rated participant responses to help. We observed significant interactions between OT and the help manipulation. In the placebo condition, receiving help from the interaction partner compared with the control condition had negative consequences, such that participants reported greater negative affect and came to view themselves and their interaction partners more negatively after interacting together on several tasks. What is important, however, is that OT administration buffered against these negative subjective responses to receiving help. Further, outside observers rated participants who received OT administration as expressing greater happiness and gratitude in response to help, relative to those who received placebo. In sum, in the context of receiving help from a stranger, oxytocin administration fostered more positive affective and social responses.

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