Intranasal administration of oxytocin increases compassion toward women


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Abstract

It has been suggested that the degree of compassion—the feeling of warmth, understanding and kindness that motivates the desire to help others, is modulated by observers’ views regarding the target’s vulnerability and suffering. This study tested the hypothesis that as compassion developed to protect vulnerable kinships, hormones such as oxytocin, which have been suggested as playing a key role in ‘tend-and-befriend’ behaviors among women, will enhance compassion toward women but not toward men. Thirty subjects participated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject study. Following administration of oxytocin/placebo, participants listened to recordings of different female/male protagonists describing distressful emotional conflicts and were then asked to provide compassionate advice to the protagonist. The participants’ responses were coded according to various components of compassion by two clinical psychologists who were blind to the treatment. The results showed that in women and men participants oxytocin enhanced compassion toward women, but did not affect compassion toward men. These findings indicate that the oxytocinergic system differentially mediates compassion toward women and toward men, emphasizing an evolutionary perspective that views compassion as a caregiving behavior designed to help vulnerable individuals.

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