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August 8, 2006
Trust, Happiness and Societal Development
A common critique of laboratory experiments is that they don't scale up to the "real world". However, in a new paper from neuroeconomist Paul Zak and Ahlam Fakhar shows that their work work on oxytocin does not face this critique. Here is a summary of the work:
The major finding is that factors that raise overall levels of oxytocin and/or estrogens (which increase oxytocin uptake) affect country-level measures of trust. Most prominently, these include the consumption of healthy foods (especially vegetables and fruits), clean environments, and some social behaviors. These are independent of the economic and legal factors that support trust and therefore provide a new rationale for governments and NGOs seeking provide healthier environments in developing countries: raising trust stimulates economic growth. Lastly, the strongest factor by far associated with a country's level of trust is...self-reported happiness. While the causation is likely bidirectional, we now know that trusting people are happier.
Paul Zak continues to produce some of the most important neuroeconomic work in the area of how to develop social capital leveraging the latest neuroscientific advances. The paper described above will soon appear in the journal Economics and Human Biology with the title "Neuroactive Hormones and Interpersonal Trust: International Evidence."
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