Trust-Inducing Nasal Spray

Posted on June 2, 2005

Be very careful the next time a date offers you some nasal spray "to help with your terrible allergies," or a politician appears to be spraying the room with an "air freshener." Swiss researchers have found the secret chemical that can make other people trust you. It's called oxytocin and is secreted at various times. For example, when women have a baby they have higher oxytocin levels, presumably to make the mother bond with her child and vice versa. It's the biological basis of human trust.

University students who inhaled the hormone in a nasal spray were discovered to be far more trusting of one another -- eager, in fact, to hand over money to strangers in investment deals.

"We find that intranasal administration of oxytocin causes a substantial increase in trusting behaviour," a research team said. The team was led by Dr. Michael Kosfeld of the University of Zurich, whose findings appear in the journal Nature.

The study already has some cynical scientists musing about whether political operatives will try to crop-dust crowds with oxytocin at rallies, whereas more hopeful researchers see the hormone as a potential boon in treating people with social phobias, or rare genetic disorders that cause children to trust everyone they meet.

Some may worry about the prospect that political operators will generously spray the crowd with oxytocin at rallies of their candidates," said University of Iowa neurologist Antonio Damasio in a commentary in Nature.

Researchers also warn people not to confuse Oxytocin with Oxycontin, the popular painkiller that so many celebrities are addicted to. That's something else entirely.