Saturday, January 29, 2011

THE KINDNESS HORMONE

When Richard Godwin asked me to answer some questions, I was expecting the usual sort of thing. This is what he came up with. Forgive me if I sound pompous or ill-informed. And thanks to Richard for hosting me at his most interesting blog.

And because I rarely shut my mouth, here is a review of Another Year on Crimespree Cinema.

Now-
I have always wondered why people I know, people that seem cordial and helpful and splendid in so many ways, spew venom when various people (and by this I mean ethnic groups) come up. You know what what I mean without me saying it and it really doesn't matter who they dislike, just that they dislike various groups for what they claim are legitimate reasons. Certain people are outside their concern and indeed, inspire hatred.

Now a study has come out explaining it. Oxytocin, the kindness hormone, only applies to people within your group. In other words, Lutherans like Lutherans but not non-Lutherans. So this hormone is a causation agent of ethnocentrism, in effect. You may be very nice to me, but hate the Baptist down the street.

The question is: how can we extend the good effects of this hormone? How can we make people see the entire world as part of their "group?" Any ideas? And does this theory seem to make sense to you. It sure explains one couple I know.

16 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Really interesting question about oxytocin. I'm not a biologist, nor a sociologist, so my opinion is very unsophisticated. That said, though, I think it all starts by how you define "us;" that is, what constitutes one's group.

Here's an example. Yes, I belong to a given racial group, a religious group and so on. However, I am a member of the online blogging community. So the people in that community are a part of my social group; doesn't matter what race/religion/political persuasion they are, they are in my "group" - one of us. Same's true of my fellow dog lovers. Doesn't matter what their backgrounds are like, they are members of my "dog-loving" social group. What I'm saying, really, is that if we can see others as members of at least one social group to which we belong (fellow mothers, fellow bloggers, fellow movie watchers, fellow popcorn-eaters, whatever) there's less "us and them" about it. In the end, anyway, we are all fellow humans.

Of course, this all starts at home. Children learn these assumptions...

Cap'n Bob said...

On the other hand, some groups inspire hatred, or at the very least disdain. Terrorists, Nazis, Scientologists.

Charles Gramlich said...

Unfortunately, what was once an evolutionary adapatation to help groups survive is now an anchor holding the "human" race back.

Naomi Johnson said...

And I always thought I disliked the Parisians because I was treated so vilely on my one visit there.

Seriously though, if the hormone really is a huge chunk of the problem -- and I think family attitudes & education play a major role myself -- then: hormone patches for everybody!

Deb said...

Hormones or no hormones, you only have to listen to five minutes of talk radio (and that's about four minutes, 59 seconds, too much for me) to know that many people cannot live without "hate objects."

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great points. As the world grows smaller, people are less likely to be the "other" unless they makes themselves that as Bob and Margot jointly point out.
And yes, it probably did have a function when survival meant feeling strongly about your family and the hormone patch idea is perfect.

Ron Scheer said...

The theory makes sense to the extent that tribalism has probably served the survival of the human race at some point in pre-history. But I suspect it's more complex.

I think social class is an "us" that transcends a lot of other us/them divisions. So does age (remember don't trust anyone over 30?). A common enemy can have a similar effect (didn't we get along fine with the commies as long as we had to fight the nazis?)

John McFetridge said...

How people form themselves into "us" has been an interest of mine for years. Is it changing?

There's an old joke about a Priest at a football game cheering for Texas and the guy beside him saying, "Father, you realize the other team is Notre Dame," and the priest says, "First, sir, I am a Texan."

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, John and he was also a son within a family, a kid in the neighborhood, a student at a college a Catholic, a whatever ethnic group, an American, etc. If we could take all of these designations with us, it might help.
Ron-the enemy of my enemy is my friend, I guess.
And boy that is true Deb. I think those shows have exacerbated the problem. I even get disgusted with ones I mostly agree with when they try to make those "others" look foolish hour after hour.

Kieran Shea said...

Patti:

You know who bats this puzzle around? Yep. Our fav.

http://www.amazon.com/Signposts-Strange-Land-Walker-Percy/dp/0312254199/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296325951&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Cosmos-Last-Self-Help-Book/dp/0312253990/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296326008&sr=1-3

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have just sent my husband out to look for them. We live a block in La Jolla from a great used bookstore (and he needed a chore other than folding laundry).

Kieran-They told me they had a boardwalk here down in Pacific Beach, but it was just a board to walk on. They don't know boardwalks here.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

Yeah, the nature-nurture thing is very much at play here, because generally speaking hormones get released in response to various neurological triggers--so it all depends, as Margot said to begin with, on whom your brain defines as "us" and "them." Some people recognize broader definitions (like, humans, or living creatures capable of feeling pain and affection)than others, but probably everyone in a species like ours, in which individuals develop and adapt over the course of their lifetimes, could learn to have such definitions.

K. A. Laity said...

I'd have to see the study as it sounds rather suspect in its methodology -- or else self-selecting. How are they defining "us" -- there are groups I was born into that I do not identify with (and others I do). I am a firm believer than chosen families are the real ones, whether they include people related by blood or not, so "us" is a very vexed question.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to think it's how we are brought up but maybe some of it exists in us from before birth. I've always found it bizarre that people "hate" other people they've never even met because they are gay or a different race or religion. First get to know someone, then hate them if they're hateful! (partial joke)

It's like these young men who go out looking for gay men (or, in some cases, guys who look gay to them) to bash. I always wonder what it is inside them they are so afraid of, if you know what I mean. If you know who you are and are secure in that, why the need to take out your fears on others?

Jeff M.

Todd Mason said...

Oxytocin is often triggered by actual contact, so that if one is only hanging with people just like them, only people just like them will trigger oxytocin expression. As someone who has had great friends and lovers among other positive experiences with all kinds of people, quite literally all kinds, this kind of kicks this can quite a ways down the road...like Kate, I would have to look at the study. Any given study anywhere is essentially useless. It's the weight of studies that matters in any given actual science...and even then, things change as the measures are refined.

Todd Mason said...

As for the i/v, I don't think you've been giving enough of the short story writers in crime fiction over the decades their due...and "Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Monty Python, David Sedaris, George Carlin, Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce all made an impact" inspires a round of "one of these things is not like of the others..." but generally agree with what you say here.