Quirks & Quarks

Chimps, war and the "cuddle hormone"

Chimp behaviour in the wild prompts a re-think about the role of oxytocin.
A chimpanzee mother and infant in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. The same "cuddle-hormone" that facilitates mothers bonding with their infants is also involved with chimps going to war. (Dr. Mike Wilson/Science/Associated Press)
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It's been called the "cuddle hormone," "the love drug," and even "the moral molecule."  Oxytocin is key to making mothers more nurturing, humans more trusting, generous, and cooperative. However, scientists have just revealed it has a dark side. 

Dr. Catherine Crockford from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and her colleagues discovered that chimpanzees' oxytocin levels surge in anticipation of and when they go to war. She says it's likely an adaptation from the mechanism that not only enables mothers to bond with their children, but to also vigorously defend them.

Dr. Larry Young from Emory University and the Yerkes Primate Center says when it comes to human behaviour, the latest science suggests oxytocin plays a similar role in creating an "us versus them" dynamic.

When people say, "why can't we all just get along?" the answer might have something to do with oxytocin. 

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