Giving peace a chance: Oxytocin increases empathy to pain in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, Ahmad Abu-Akel, Sharon Palgi, Ramzi Sulieman, Meytal Fischer-Shofty, Yechiel Levkovitz, Jean Decety

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Studies have argued that empathy to the pain of out-group members is largely diminished by "in-group empathy bias". Investigating the mechanism underlying the emotional reactions of Jewish Israeli participants toward the pain experienced by Palestinians in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affords a natural experiment that allows us to examine the role of neurohormones in emotion sensitivity across conflicting social groups. In a double-blind placebo-controlled within-subject crossover design, Israeli Jewish participants were asked to report their empathy to the pain of in-group (Jewish), neutral out-group (European), and adversary out-group (Palestinian) members. Oxytocin remarkably increased empathy to the pain of Palestinians, attenuating the effect of in-group empathy bias observed under the placebo condition. This effect, we argue, is driven by the general role of oxytocin in increasing the salience of social agents which, in turn, may interfere with processes pertaining to derogation of out-group members during intractable conflicts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3139-3144
Number of pages6
JournalPsychoneuroendocrinology
Volume38
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Binational Science Foundation (BSF) . J.D. was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation . The authors thank Ian Apperly for his comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Funding Information:
Funding for this study was provided by the Binational Science Foundation (BSF) and the John Templeton Foundation. Both funding sources had no further role in the study design, collection, analysis and interpretation of the data, or in the writing of the study and the decision to submit it for publication. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Keywords

  • Empathy
  • Inter-group dynamics
  • Intractable conflict
  • Oxytocin
  • Pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism

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