Vasopressin increases human risky cooperative behavior

Edited by Michael S. Gazzaniga, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, and approved January 5, 2016 (received for review September 24, 2015)
February 8, 2016
113 (8) 2051-2056

Significance

Most forms of cooperative behavior take place in a mutually beneficial context where cooperation is risky as its success depends on unknown actions of others. In two pharmacological experiments, we show that intranasal administration of arginine vasopressin (AVP), a hormone that regulates mammalian social behaviors such as monogamy and aggression, increases humans’ tendency to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation. Several control tasks ruled out that AVP’s effects were driven by increased willingness to bare risks in the absence of social context, beliefs about the actions of one’s partner, or altruistic concerns. Our findings provide novel causal evidence for a biological factor underlying cooperation and are in accord with previous findings that cooperation is intrinsically rewarding for humans.

Abstract

The history of humankind is an epic of cooperation, which is ubiquitous across societies and increasing in scale. Much human cooperation occurs where it is risky to cooperate for mutual benefit because successful cooperation depends on a sufficient level of cooperation by others. Here we show that arginine vasopressin (AVP), a neuropeptide that mediates complex mammalian social behaviors such as pair bonding, social recognition and aggression causally increases humans’ willingness to engage in risky, mutually beneficial cooperation. In two double-blind experiments, male participants received either AVP or placebo intranasally and made decisions with financial consequences in the “Stag hunt” cooperation game. AVP increases humans’ willingness to cooperate. That increase is not due to an increase in the general willingness to bear risks or to altruistically help others. Using functional brain imaging, we show that, when subjects make the risky Stag choice, AVP down-regulates the BOLD signal in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), a risk-integration region, and increases the left dlPFC functional connectivity with the ventral pallidum, an AVP receptor-rich region previously associated with AVP-mediated social reward processing in mammals. These findings show a previously unidentified causal role for AVP in social approach behavior in humans, as established by animal research.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by a special grant of the Center for Behavioral Brain Sciences, Magdeburg (to M.H.), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (T.M.), and the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation (C.F.C. and G.N.).

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 113 | No. 8
February 23, 2016
PubMed: 26858433

Classifications

Submission history

Published online: February 8, 2016
Published in issue: February 23, 2016

Keywords

  1. vasopressin
  2. intranasal administration
  3. cooperation
  4. fMRI
  5. neuroeconomics

Acknowledgments

This work was supported by a special grant of the Center for Behavioral Brain Sciences, Magdeburg (to M.H.), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (T.M.), and the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation (C.F.C. and G.N.).

Notes

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

Authors

Affiliations

Claudia Brunnlieb1
Department of Neurology, University Lübeck, 23562 Lübeck, Germany;
Center for Behavioral Brain Sciences, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany;
Department of Empirical Economics, Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg, 39106 Magdeburg, Germany;
Department of Social Medicine and Health Economics, Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany;
Gideon Nave1
Computation and Neural Systems, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125;
Colin F. Camerer2 [email protected]
Computation and Neural Systems, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125;
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125
Stephan Schosser
Department of Empirical Economics, Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg, 39106 Magdeburg, Germany;
Bodo Vogt
Department of Empirical Economics, Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg, 39106 Magdeburg, Germany;
Department of Social Medicine and Health Economics, Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany;
Thomas F. Münte
Department of Neurology, University Lübeck, 23562 Lübeck, Germany;
Marcus Heldmann
Department of Neurology, University Lübeck, 23562 Lübeck, Germany;
Center for Behavioral Brain Sciences, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany;

Notes

2
To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: [email protected].
Author contributions: C.B., G.N., C.F.C., S.S., B.V., T.F.M., and M.H. designed research; C.B. performed research; C.B., G.N., C.F.C., B.V., T.F.M., and M.H. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; C.B., G.N., S.S., T.F.M., and M.H. analyzed data; and C.B., G.N., C.F.C., B.V., T.F.M., and M.H. wrote the paper.
1
C.B. and G.N. contributed equally to this work.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Vasopressin increases human risky cooperative behavior
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 113
    • No. 8
    • pp. 1955-E1127

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