Association between the violence inhibitor, oxytocin, and prosocial behavior

Started by Volunto, Feb 07, 2023, 06:58 PM

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Oxytocin is a hormone that plays an important role in prosocial behavior. It contributes to the formation of the maternal and pair bonds, predisposes a person to trust individuals with similar characteristics, who are classified as "in-group" members, helps to establish relationships between people, etc. Also, an important role in prosocial behavior, including the formation of a paternal bond, plays the hormone vasopressin.

These hormones are often called aggression regulators. It is believed that in intragroup relationships, oxytocin contributes to the establishment of altruism and non-violence, uniting and coordinating the actions of individual members of the group. On the contrary, in the case of intergroup relationships, this only increases aggressiveness since a cohesive group is able to fight more fiercely with other, "alien" groups, whose members are not trusted. This often explains the emergence of wars between different groups of people.

At first glance, this explanation does not fit well, if not completely contradicts the theory of the violence inhibition mechanism. But in fact, there is no contradiction at all if you understand how both mechanisms interact. This topic could be part of the violence myths chapter, but for its understanding, it is very important to know the neurophysiological aspects of the violence inhibitor.

Interestingly, the 5-HT system, including 5-HT1A and 5-HT1B receptors, is involved in the regulation of oxytocin and vasopressin secretion. In one of the experiments, administration of the 5-HT1A agonist to mice led not only to the suppression of offensive aggression but also to the emergence of prosocial behavior (close social contact and grooming) due to the secretion of oxytocin. At the same time, pretreatment with an oxytocin receptor antagonist did not reduce the anti-aggressive effect of the 5-HT1A agonist, but only suppressed prosocial behavior. Pretreatment with a vasopressin receptor antagonist had no effect at all.

It can be concluded that the regulation of aggression and stimulation of prosocial behavior are functions of different neurophysiological systems. Moreover, the 5-HT system is able to influence the function of the oxytocin and vasopressin receptors, but not vice versa. This means that it is the theory of the violence inhibition mechanism that explains the regulation of aggression, while oxytocin is related only to prosocial behavior. And the absence of such behavior, for example, when confronted with an "alien" (but a member of one's own species) or due to a malfunction of the oxytocin receptor, does not mean at all that the individual will be predisposed to committing a violent attack.