Oxytocin moderates the association between testosterone-cortisol ratio and trustworthiness: A randomized placebo-controlled study

Youri R Berends*, Joke H M Tulen*, André I Wierdsma, Yolanda B de Rijke, Steven A Kushner, Hjalmar J C van Marle

*Corresponding author for this work

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Oxytocin has been proposed to enhance feelings of trust, however, these findings have been difficult to replicate. Environmental or hormonal factors might influence this association. We studied whether oxytocin moderates the association between the testosterone-cortisol ratio, which is associated with risk taking behavior and aggression, and trustworthiness, while controlling for the general level of trust. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study with 53 healthy males was performed in which 32IU oxytocin (n = 27) or placebo (n = 26) was administered intranasally. Participants subsequently played the Trust Game in which they were allocated to the role of trustee. In the third phase of the Trust Game, we found a positive association between the testosterone-cortisol-ratio and the proportion of the amount that is returned to the investor (P=<0.01). However, administration of oxytocin reduced reciprocity in those with a high testosterone-cortisol ratio after reciprocity restoration (a significant interaction effect between administration of oxytocin and the testosterone-cortisol ratio in the third phase of the Trust Game, P = 0.015). The third phase of the Trust Game represents the restoration of reciprocity and trustworthiness, after this is violated in the second phase. Therefore, our data suggest that oxytocin might hinder the restoration of trustworthiness and diminish risk-taking behavior when trust is violated, especially in those who are hormonally prone to risk-taking behavior by a high testosterone-cortisol ratio.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100080
JournalComprehensive psychoneuroendocrinology
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by Fivoor, the Erasmus MC and the
Koningsheide foundation (P2013/485). The authors thank P.T. Vinther,
T.M. Pesch and H. Schollaart for their contribution to the data

© 2021 The Authors.


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