Monday, December 12, 2016

Oxytocin, moral judgement, and male social synchony

I pass on two interesting pieces of work. First, Bernhard et al. show a correlation between different forms of the oxytocin receptor gene (which would influence neurotransmitters in multiple neural systems) and the kind of judgements made in complex moral situations. The technical abstract:
Moral judgments are produced through the coordinated interaction of multiple neural systems, each of which relies on a characteristic set of neurotransmitters. Genes that produce or regulate these neurotransmitters may have distinctive influences on moral judgment. Two studies examined potential genetic influences on moral judgment using dilemmas that reliably elicit competing automatic and controlled responses, generated by dissociable neural systems. Study 1 (N = 228) examined 49 common variants (SNPs) within 10 candidate genes and identified a nominal association between a polymorphism (rs237889) of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) and variation in deontological vs utilitarian moral judgment (that is, judgments favoring individual rights vs the greater good). An association was likewise observed for rs1042615 of the arginine vasopressin receptor gene (AVPR1A). Study 2 (N = 322) aimed to replicate these findings using the aforementioned dilemmas as well as a new set of structurally similar medical dilemmas. Study 2 failed to replicate the association with AVPR1A, but replicated the OXTR finding using both the original and new dilemmas. Together, these findings suggest that moral judgment is influenced by variation in the oxytocin receptor gene and, more generally, that single genetic polymorphisms can have a detectable effect on complex decision processes.
Second, Mu et al. find that oxytocin enhances inter-brain synchrony during social coordination among adult men.
Recent brain imaging research has revealed oxytocin (OT) effects on an individual's brain activity during social interaction but tells little about whether and how OT modulates the coherence of inter-brain activity related to two individuals' coordination behavior. We developed a new real-time coordination game that required two individuals of a dyad to synchronize with a partner (coordination task) or with a computer (control task) by counting in mind rhythmically. Electroencephalography (EEG) was recorded simultaneously from a dyad to examine OT effects on inter-brain synchrony of neural activity during interpersonal coordination. Experiment 1 found that dyads showed smaller interpersonal time lags of counting and greater inter-brain synchrony of alpha-band neural oscillations during the coordination (vs control) task and these effects were reliably observed in female but not male dyads. Moreover, the increased alpha-band inter-brain synchrony predicted better interpersonal behavioral synchrony across all participants. Experiment 2, using a double blind, placebo-controlled between-subjects design, revealed that intranasal OT vs placebo administration in male dyads improved interpersonal behavioral synchrony in both the coordination and control tasks but specifically enhanced alpha-band inter-brain neural oscillations during the coordination task. Our findings provide first evidence that OT enhances inter-brain synchrony in male adults to facilitate social coordination.

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