About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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July 6, 2006

An Oxytocin - Not Oil - Shortage

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Posted by Zack Lynch

We don't face an oil shortage as much as an oxytocin shortage says NYTimes columnist David Brooks. I couldn't agree more. In a brilliant op-ed piece on July 2 titled "Of Human Bonding" he explains.

"If I had $37 billion to give to charity, I’d give some of it to a foundation that would invent an Oxytocin Meter. That way we could predict who is headed for success and who for failure. We could figure out which organizations are thriving and which are sick.

Oxytocin is a hormone that helps mammals bond. Female rats injected with oxytocin nurture newborns placed in their cages, which they otherwise would attack. Prairie voles with oxytocin receptors form lifelong monogamous bonds, whereas other varieties of voles without the receptors mate promiscuously.

250px-Oxytocin.jpgIn humans, oxytocin levels rise during childbirth, breast feeding and sex. Humans with higher oxytocin levels are more likely to trust other people. They are more resistant to stress and social phobias. Humans seem, to experience delicious oxytocin floods in the brain after being with someone they love. It’s no wonder neuroscientists – displaying the branding genius for which they are famous – have nicknamed oxytocin “the affiliative neuropeptide.”

I figure if we can hang Oxytocin Meters around people’s necks, we can tell who is involved in healthy relationships and who isn’t. If you walked into an office where nobody is having an oxytocin moment, then you’d know you’re in a dysfunctional organization and it’s time to get out of there.....

If I had $37 billion, I would focus it on the crucial node where attachment skills are formed: the parental relationship during the first few years of life. I’d invest much of it with organizations, like Circles of Security, that help at-risk mothers and fathers develop secure bonds with their own infants, instead of just replicating the behaviors of their parents. I’d focus on the real resource crisis that affects the country. It’s not the oil shortage. It’s the oxytocin shortage."

If anyone out there is interested in donating to make Brooks' dream of Oxytocin Meters a reality then they should contact Paul Zak at the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies(CNS). I am on the advisory board of the CNS and am working with them to raise $5 million to endow the center so that his work on the neurobiology of trust can continue to grow. Trust me, understanding the neurobiology of trust could be one of the greatest breakthroughs for society in the 21st century. If you have a few million to spare, take a look at this research.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: NeuroWave 2050


1. Laurie on July 7, 2006 9:41 AM writes...

i am interested in being kept in the loop. No money to invest, but my thesis years ago fits with this subject and I am very interested in your project.

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2. Brian on July 8, 2006 6:54 PM writes...

Oxytocin is now off-patent - so companies should start offering it at low cost. Studies done in Switzerland (I believe) have indicated that low dosage inhaled oxytocin is likely to be a good therapy for abused children and others who have attachment disorders. No question - I completely agree with you - this could change the world and make it a much healthier, friendlier place.

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3. Innomen on July 9, 2006 4:26 PM writes...

While I agree that the study of emotion in the context of neurochemistry is interesting and important, i think there should be a moment of reflection on suggestion of emotional modification through drugs.

Take for example the comment on promiscuity and monogamy. Some people are against monogamy for sociopolitical reasons, and to suggest that its merely because of a deficiency in some neuropeptide is dangerous as it open the door to a "cure" for various behaviors. For example, seeking to cure promiscuity to me is morally equal to trying to develop a "cure" for homosexuality. Although I wouldn't object to a cure for religion.

While I agree that drugs have a place in human society, even for recreational reasons, people should always have a choice. I don't mean to be paranoid but what do you honestly think a government would do with a drug that rendered someone "more resistant to stress and social phobias"?

In a society where parents treat their children like robots to be programmed, and the government treats its people like children, this is something that could end up misused. Do the research but be aware.

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4. Joseph Hertzlinger on July 11, 2006 4:12 PM writes...

Did the people who checked Enron's books have too much oxytocin? Trust is not always a virtue.

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5. Anonymous on July 12, 2006 2:38 PM writes...

a well meant, but very shallow, perspective & endeavor.

sadly, in the current world, "those who are headed for success" aren't those with an oxytocin surplus, but rather they are those with an oxytocin deficit, who are skilled at simulating a surplus with their behavior, to the exploitation of the ones with the actual oxytocin surplus.

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6. Kensai on July 12, 2006 3:44 PM writes...

Well said, anonymous. And this doesn't only apply to oxytocin surplus simulation, but also many other "freeloader" behaviors.

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7. John on July 22, 2006 10:32 PM writes...

People in an office would suddenly get a new brand of "performance anxiety" if it was expected that their oxytocin meters should display a certain value. Especially if keeping a healthy level became part of their job description ... please leave me out of your *1984* scenario!

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