Sitting down, guitar in hand, I belted out a country tune last night to strangers on Chatroulette, a webcam chatroom where strangers meet. It was an original I wrote years ago for a rather unsuccessful act I deemed Davey Coal. In typical Chatroulette fashion, I’d say each listener heard roughly four seconds of each song before skipping to the next “rouletter”.
Each pair of eyes that appeared on my screen looked crazed with the uncertainty of who would pop onto their monitors next and seemed nervous and unwilling to take the time to give the song a chance. Understandably so. It’s admittedly a pretty odd thing to do.
In 2005, Swiss researchers reported in the journal Nature that a small dose of the hormone oxytocin consistently made people more trusting of strangers.
Participants in the experiment played an investment game with other participants they didn’t know. Those who were given oxytocin, a brain hormone that’s typically associated with trust and love, invested more capital with strangers than those who didn’t receive the hormone.
Study coauthor Ernst Fehr told the New York Times that the research has far-reaching implications and could open up new doors in oxytocin-based research on humans.
"I have the hope that this research will lead to clinical application in psychiatric disorders that are associated with a lack of trust," he said.
The oxytocin was administered in the form of nasal spray and is not available in the US. The product is typically prescribed for inducing contractions or stimulating lactation in countries in Europe.
The New York Times reported:
In the study, the Swiss researchers had 178 male college students play a simple investment game. Investors began the game with an allowance of 12 monetary units, of which they could send 12, 8, 4 or none to an unseen, anonymous “trustee.” The amount was tripled before being transferred to the trustee, who then chose how much of this income to share with the investor.
In previous experiments using this game, economists have shown that investors are guarded with their money at first, increasing their investments only after seeing evidence that their partner is playing fair. The oxytocin study did not allow for this adjustment: Investors knew that they would be dealing only once with four different partners.
Yet those who inhaled oxytocin before playing the game invested an average of 10 monetary units, 17 percent more than did players who got a placebo spray. In the oxytocin group, 45 percent invested all their money, compared with 21 percent in the placebo group.
Scientists claim oxytocin is a hormone that helps animals to overcome social anxieties and get over any natural aversions to strangers. And they are hopeful about future clinical applications in a range of psychiatric disorders.
As far as my Chatroulette experience goes, had the strangers on Chatroulette been primed with oxytocin prior to hearing my song, I like to imagine they would have each stuck around just a bit longer before going on to the next person on the website… although my better judgement tells me otherwise.
Davey Coal probably burnt out for a reason.