Oxytocin and cooperation under conditions of uncertainty: the modulating role of incentives and social information

Horm Behav. 2010 Mar;57(3):368-74. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2010.01.006. Epub 2010 Jan 18.


The neuropeptide Oxytocin (OT) has been implicated in many aspects of mammalian social behavior. This study investigates how OT interacts with two well-studied determinants of cooperative behavior: incentives and social information. Participants received OT or a placebo and played two economic games: a Coordination Game (with strong incentives to cooperate) and a Prisoner's Dilemma (with weak cooperative incentives). OT enhanced cooperation only when social information was present, and this effect was significantly more pronounced in the Coordination Game. When social information was lacking, OT surprisingly decreased cooperation. Consistent with the well-established role of OT in trust-building and in social cognition, social information appears to be crucial for OT to boost cooperative expectations in an interdependent social interaction that provides incentives to cooperate. When these cues are absent, OT appears to instead elicit a risk-averse strategy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Games, Experimental
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Social Perception*
  • Trust
  • Uncertainty*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxytocin