Nasal Spray Increases Trust for Strangers

Okay; this'll be fun. What's the most creative abuse for this that you can think of ?

Previous studies have shown that participants in "trust games" took greater risks with their money after inhaling the hormone via a nasal spray.

In this latest experiment, published in the journal Neuron, the researchers asked volunteer subjects to take part in a similar game.

They were each asked to contribute money to a human trustee, with the understanding that the trustee would invest the money and decide whether to return the profits, or betray the subject's trust by keeping the profit.

The subjects also received doses of oxytocin or a placebo via a nasal spray.

After investing, the participants were given feedback on the trustees. When their trust was abused, the placebo group became less willing to invest. But the players who had been given oxytocin continued to trust their money with a broker.

"We can see that oxytocin has a very powerful effect," said Dr Baumgartner.

"The subjects who received oxytocin demonstrated no change in their trust behaviour, even though they were informed that their trust was not honoured in roughly 50% of cases."

In a second game, where the human trustees were replaced by a computer which gave random returns, the hormone made no difference to the players' investment behaviour.

"It appears that oxytocin affects social responses specifically related to trust," Dr Baumgartner said.

Posted on May 26, 2008 at 1:30 PM • 48 Comments

Comments

Joe BuckMay 26, 2008 2:08 PM

I'm more concerned about an extremely non-creative use: assholes trying to this stuff as a date-rape drug.

mooMay 26, 2008 2:13 PM

@ Joe Buck: That was my first thought too, although from the description it doesn't sound like it would be too effective (it doesn't actually make the victim trust you, it just messes with their reaction to feedback affecting the trust relationship).

I think a more likely despicable use is, con-men using it to scam elderly folks out of more of their money.

Steven BassMay 26, 2008 2:31 PM

The Scientific American article on this http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?... (behind a pay wall) covered this aspect a bit. It must be inhaled, not taken orally. The dosage has to be pretty high, so dabbing a little on your wrists won't work. Basically, you have to convince someone to let you squirt something up their nose. You probably already have their trust if they will let you do that.

Bruce SchneierMay 26, 2008 2:41 PM

"Basically, you have to convince someone to let you squirt something up their nose. You probably already have their trust if they will let you do that."

Okay, so doctors and extra-high medical bills.

RonKMay 26, 2008 3:18 PM

Perusing the Wikipedia entry on oxytocin raises interesting points:

* Oxytocin is thought to also be naturally generated by the body after orgasm, or in women, by nipple stimulation.
* It appears to have some role in sexual arousal and in the maternal instinct.
* Some of the effects of MDMA (ecstasy) may be caused via its stimulating or enhancing the effect of the body's natural oxytocin.
* You don't want to try using it on a pregnant woman since it will probably induce labor.

Matt M.May 26, 2008 3:19 PM

Of interesting note is that oxytocin is a hormone released during orgasm in humans.

Mike LambrellisMay 26, 2008 3:24 PM

Who needs soma when you've got oxytocin?
Oxytocin, a politician's best friend!

a.May 26, 2008 3:24 PM

Body also makes oxytocin of its own http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin
If also that will have the same effect...
- selling any loans with bad conditions and ovnoxious rates, any kid related insurance with bad conditions etc - all to the new moms. As their body is supposedly very high in that hormone already, that should be easy.

What would be nicer treat for the potential clients of a company than a nice dinner after a Turskish sauna (with some scented foam...) and bath than a dinner and signing the contract/selling/buying...

Would that work if the hormone would be sprayed in the air for all to enjoy? Bottled water, today in special offer, only $ 20 for a bottle at teh duty free...

DavyMay 26, 2008 3:33 PM

Great big oxytocin atomiser in the TSA air-conditioning. (It would be uncharitable to suggest that there's already one charged with crack.)

YouMay 26, 2008 3:52 PM

Step 1: Open a casino and pump it full of this stuff.
Step 2: ?
Step 3: Profit!

CliveMay 26, 2008 4:42 PM

Pump the stuff through the aircon in your internet café and have all the computers configured to phish your customers.

BetaMay 26, 2008 4:51 PM

"In a second game, where the human trustees were replaced by a computer which gave random returns, the hormone made no difference to the players' investment behaviour."

What is it about British journalists that makes them touch on crucial statistics near the end without seeing their importance? Were both groups in the second trial forgiving, like the oxycontin group in the first trial, or unforgiving, like the control group? Or something in between? If they're both trusting, then the brain has a grudge-remembering, "you won't fool me twice" circuit which the drug suppresses. If they're both unforgiving, then the brain has an easy-going, "I'm among friends" pattern which the drug stimulates. (I think both patterns are important, so it's not clear to me whether the effect is "good" or "bad".)

SteveJMay 26, 2008 6:13 PM

@Beta: if any other nationality (English-speaking for preference, but I can survive French and google-translate others) of journalists are better, please give URLs. Maybe it is just British journalists, but I suspect that the best scientifically analytical minds simply tend towards other careers.

This article almost makes me glad I have a cold. But not quite.

Using Both BrainsMay 26, 2008 7:19 PM

1. This might need to be administered directly now, but you can bet your ass someone's trying to make a version which can be released into an air conditioning system.

2. @Joe Buck: As a date rape drug, this has nothing on PT-141 (try Googling it).

Honestly, if someone can make a sneaky way to give THAT to a girl, I wanna be the first on board! :D

ScottCMay 26, 2008 7:39 PM

Let's surgically implant an oxytocin emitter in James Bond so he can more easily fool the bad guy and, more importantly, the bad guy's girl(s).

A pimp could make spraying this up his girl's noses part of his daily routine. Keep them trusting his "protection" even when they get evidence that it's basically worthless.

We can use it at those "corporate retreat" camps where you learn to trust your coworkers.

Perhaps it could be used to make gameshows more intense by encouraging the contestants to trust the host and each other more than they should?

It would be interesting to see how differently poker players play with and without this stuff in the air.

Oh, how about giving large doses of this stuff to children before taking them to the Doctor, Dentist, or Barber?

AnonymousMay 26, 2008 7:45 PM

@ScottC

"A pimp could make spraying this up his girl's noses part of his daily routine. Keep them trusting his "protection" even when they get evidence that it's basically worthless."

id spray it up a girl's nose daily so she stays in my bed :D

Petréa MitchellMay 26, 2008 9:52 PM

Offer visitors to your timeshare presentation some compliementary nasal moisturizing spray.

LeoMay 26, 2008 9:59 PM

@Bruce Schneier
"Okay, so doctors and extra-high medical bills."

That would only work on the uninsured. They're already being successfully overcharged anyway, so what would be the point?

SejanusMay 27, 2008 12:35 AM

There are already plenty of ways to mess with one's trust. I bet most of them are either more effective, or simpler to use, or both.

Davi OttenheimerMay 27, 2008 2:55 AM

I've heard the same said for alcohol.

Apparently after you drink enough you take greater risks with your money, such as buying more drinks.

"Cuddle chemical"? Wonder if "The Barney Chemical" would be a trademark violation? Anyway, I thought that was MDMA, or tryptamines.

Conspiracy alert: I suspect this is really a military-funded project to drop giant doses over hostile areas to create zones of friendlies. I'm sort of kidding. It's not far from the "gay bomb" already explored by the US military.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_bomb

I guess no one yet is actively searching for the "do not trust" or the "do not get phished/scammed" drug?

John MooreMay 27, 2008 6:05 AM

Airlines would benefit. Injecting the hormone as an aerosol into the passenger cabin could allow them to keep customers while cutting back on customer service. Combined with the right subliminal messages and properly trained flight attendants they could sell this service to interest groups.

John MooreMay 27, 2008 7:01 AM

The hormone can be engineered to be more stabilized and probably more potent through directed evolution or combinatorial synthesis and screening. Or if the receptor is known, a peptide can be engineered to have the same effect as the hormone. Nasal application is the quickest way to the brain. That's why neurologists are applying it that way.

RogerMay 27, 2008 7:32 AM

@Davi:
> Conspiracy alert: I suspect this is really a military-funded project to drop giant doses
> over hostile areas to create zones of friendlies. I'm sort of kidding. It's not far from
> the "gay bomb" already explored by the US military.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_bomb

You may have been slightly misled, Davi. Due to Wikipedia's style policies, the WP article is not nearly as scathing as it should be about people who insist the "Gay bomb" was a serious program.

It was not "explored by the US military". Rather, the Wright lab was asked to brainstorm possible new forms of "annoying" non-lethal weapons, and came out with 3 pages of totally wacky, off-the-wall speculations, none of which were actually developed. If you read the original document (which was released under FoI, and can be found in many places on the net) you can see how rough it is -- complete with marginal jottings and such like. And it goes on to admit there is no known way to actually *make* a "Gay bomb".

Personally, I thought the "bee bomb" was much funnier (seed the combat area with beehives, and spray the enemy with bee pheromones!), if not quite so reliably non-lethal. But journalists saw the "G word", thought "that'll make good copy!", and raced straight out with a story based on some guy's musings and doodles.

BetaMay 27, 2008 9:15 AM

@SteveJ

American journalists usually miss the point entirely and fill the article with quotes. Sometimes they hit the nail on the head, it would be strange if they didn't. But down at the bottom, where British and American news columns degenerate into random filler in exactly the same way, where the order of paragraphs seems random and the editors clearly don't expect anyone to still be reading-- that's where a vital clue appears in the British one. I've seen it again and again. It's uncanny! It's as if there's an undercover scientist in the British copy room, sneaking messages out to a hidden network of scientifically competent readers.

sooth_sayerMay 27, 2008 10:00 AM

The most fun one could have is to spary this on Bruce and ask him for his PGP key for his laptop on this way to a conference and leak his presentation before he gets there :-)

2fixWindowsMay 27, 2008 10:46 AM

Use Microsoft windows in peace! Free USB sprayer and supply to computer included with settlement of class action suit!
Solves Windows PTSD for administrators.

Or just use a *BSD system without any settlements or sprayers.

Scott ShorterMay 27, 2008 10:47 AM

Performance enhancing drug for Diplomacy players.

Perp: I'll let you have Belgium next turn if you support me now. Victim: Okay.

Philippe BastienMay 27, 2008 10:48 AM

@south_sayer
not for getting a presentation leaked ahead of time... If I was a seller of snake oil encryption products, now that would be worth millions!

Philippe

tk.May 27, 2008 11:07 AM

Inspector Sledge Hammer will take a case of the stuff.

The uses for this are practically endless. I'm reminded of a few years back, when the Disarrono people wanted to pipe in the scent of Amaretto in the London tube system (which was abandoned because, you know, arsenic also smells like almond). This is an advertiser's dream...

Evil TrevMay 27, 2008 11:40 AM

I'm opening an alternative therapy centre, start with a good bit of aromatherapy then on to the more targeted stuff, chelation, acupuncture, whatever else has no effect but I can charge a fortune for, some wind down aromatherapy then present the bill.

Come back next week for more

Clive RobinsonMay 27, 2008 12:52 PM

@ tk,

"... arsenic also smells like almond"

Are you perhaps thinking of "bitter almonds" which is usualy assosiated with cyanide gases.

AnonymousMay 27, 2008 3:02 PM

I first read that as oxycontin, I guess it would probably work pretty well too...

SkorjMay 27, 2008 3:07 PM

Now we see that the DHS was on to something with warning people to guard their HVAC intakes! ;)

AlexMay 27, 2008 3:35 PM

I guess the US president will have to wear nose filters next time he visits the Russian President.

Pat CahalanMay 27, 2008 5:13 PM

Sounds like the season finale of 30 Rock.

"We failed at creating a gay bomb. The compound works, but it must be released in a small enclosed space."

EricMay 27, 2008 6:09 PM

I was trying to think of a way to turn this in to an air plane movie plot, but I can't think of how being trusted the second time after being busted would help the bad guy.

But how about misting it all along the really long lines for airport security. "Hey, surely *this time* the TSA won't cause me a bunch of grief for no logical reason."

Or adding a dispenser to the phone so that you'll trust that the CS rep half a world away really will solve your problem this time.

BWMay 27, 2008 6:52 PM

I can think of two applications for this:
1) Religious Cult - How else do you get them to drink the Koolaid?
2) Treating paranoia.

I wonder if you could expose someone gradually to this stuff over an extended period of time, slowly upping the dose then all of a sudden remove the source. Would it induce paranoia?

AnonymousMay 27, 2008 9:06 PM

@ScottC

"A pimp could make spraying this up his girl's noses part of his daily routine. Keep them trusting his "protection" even when they get evidence that it's basically worthless."

As oxytocin is naturally occurring, it might not be too far from what happens.

Wesley ParishMay 28, 2008 4:27 AM

Military recruiting offices. Suicide/kamikaze squads. Political rallies.

Of course, if said military recruiting office is awash in the stuff, and someone comes in who is relatively immune to the stuff, OWN GOAL!!! OWN GOAL!!! OWN GOAL!!!

Natch, they'll add it to the TVs, as a scent dispenser "when you are feeling stressed and you want a pleasant scent to watch your TV to, just add this handy dandy air freshener to your TV and all will be fine and dandy!"

Trust me, I know what I'm doing.

paulMay 28, 2008 10:36 AM

"This nasal spray will increase your investment earnings by delivering intelligence-enhancing chemicals directly to your brain."

Prosecuting counselMay 28, 2008 4:53 PM

Davos is booked so we'll be holding it at The Hague this year, Mr Cheney/Bush/Blair.

BryanMay 28, 2008 6:54 PM

OK, I'll bite.

You are the police interrogating a suspect. You bring them up from detention (or in from the outside world by appt.), and leave them in a room with Oxytocin pumped in for a few minutes until the meeting room (or officer in charge) is available. Then you bring them out of the doping room into the interrogation room. From the suspect's perspective, nothing unusual here.

Hmmm... I wonder if this has been tried at Guantanamo. And I wonder how much Oxytocin is required for effectivity after the suspect has been subjected to tort^H^H^H^H "harsh interrogation techniques".

AnonyMouseMay 31, 2008 4:33 AM

@Pat Calahan

"We failed at creating a gay bomb. The compound works, but it must be released in a small enclosed space."

Hmm, no wonder there's so much gay yiffing at furry conventions.

AnonymousMay 31, 2008 6:18 PM

> Open a casino and pump it full of this stuff.

That could actually be detrimental, since your employees are in a position of trust with regards to your money. This application could result in an increase in employee theft.

BrianJune 1, 2008 9:18 AM

There are already plenty of paranoia inducing drugs, aren't there? Those are the "do not trust" and "do not get phished/scammed" drugs...they are also "do not get near me" and "the plant is trying to eat me" drugs too... Hmmm... Maybe more work needs to be done in that area. :)

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