According to researchers from the University of Bonn, levels of the hormone oxytocin in the body can dictate the level of willingness an individual will have regarding donating to a humanitarian cause.

In a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers showed that the "cuddle hormone" strengthens social ties. According to them, earlier studies have shown that the messenger is also capable of promoting generosity. However, the researchers were also keen on knowing if this willingness to donate also translates to sustainable projects.

There were 172 study participants, each given 10 Euros and given the freedom to keep the money for themselves or to choose between donating a portion or all of the money to one of two actual aid projects: one a social project for improving livelihood for native Congo inhabitants and the other an ecological reforestation project in the same region.

To determine oxytocin levels in the participants, the researchers gathered saliva samples.

According to Nina Marsh, the lead author for the study, environmental projects have a social component so it was assumed that they would influence an increase in willingness to donate. And as expected, participants with higher levels of oxytocin in their saliva made more generous donations to social causes. However, the researchers also noted that the same kind of influence was not evident in environmental projects.

A second experiment was carried out for the study where oxytocin was administered to some subjects through a nasal spray. The researchers saw that the pattern had repeated, with the oxytocin group donating twice as much for social projects compared to the control group given placebo. In fact, the willingness to donate to an environmental cause even decreased when oxytocin was administered.

Participants were also given the choice between opting for a socially or environmentally sustainable product and then indicating the price they would be willing to pay for the item. Based on results, the oxytocin group not only chose more of the socially sustainable products but were also willing to pay twice the amount of money for them.

"If support is needed for environmental projects, the social message of the project should be emphasized to also reach those persons who have elevated oxytocin levels," advised the researchers.

Other authors for the study include: René Hurlemann; Wolfgang Maier; Bernd Weber; Laura Enax; Sabrina Strang; Holger Gerhardt; and Dirk Scheele.

Photo: Valerie Everett | Flickr

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