A Trust Your Government Pill

George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

Instapundit links to a story this morning that is so well-timed, so Onion-esque that it defies description (and it's from NPR!):

This is a story about a fickle little hormone that plays a large role in our lives.

The name of the hormone is oxytocin, and until recently it was mostly dismissed by scientists. They knew it played a role in inducing labor and facilitating breast-feeding, but otherwise didn't give it much attention.

But over the past 10 years, oxytocin has come up in the world, and several researchers have begun making big claims about it. Now dubbed "the trust hormone," oxytocin, researchers say, affects everything from our day-to-day life to how we feel about our government.

The narrative of oxytocin -- the trust hormone -- is being rewritten.


This gave (researcher Paul) Zak an idea. Like some comic-book villain concocting a plan to take over the world by dumping happy pills in the water supply, he wondered if it might be possible to use this molecule -- oxytocin -- to change the way people felt about the government.

"How much does this scale up?" Zak wondered. Could the effect go from the individual all the way up to gigantic institutions like the government? Zak decided to see. He undertook this experiment at a particular historical moment: America was in the midst of the Great Recession.

"Trust in government is at an all-time low, and there certainly are kinda macro reasons for that," says Zak. "But could there be biological reasons? That was the question in this study: To what degree does the biology of trust, which we associate with oxytocin, affect trust in government and trust in government officials?"

Zak put 130 test subjects through his normal routines. He sprayed half of them with oxytocin, half with a placebo, then ran them through a battery of tests and measurements. "The people on oxytocin did report that they trusted other people more, and the people who trusted others more also trusted their government more. So it's sort of a two-step process," he says.

Zak points out that it's well-documented that trust in government declines during times of economic hardship. We also know, he says, that during periods of economic hardship, people are often exposed to prolonged stress and anxiety. And prolonged stress and anxiety, Zak says, are like poison to oxytocin.

"So the underlying biological hypothesis is that stress -- particularly stress that does not have a clear ending point -- inhibits oxytocin release. So there could be an actual biological reason why trust in government is so low."

You gotta love it.