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The reason we share food

1 November 2012

The reason we share food

A University of Waikato researcher is looking at the bio-psychological link between ‘love-hormone’ oxytocin and the sharing of food.

“As a society we share resources even when they are extremely scarce,” says biological scientist Dr Pawel Olszewski.

“Remarkably, almost on a daily basis - in the family or in other social groups - mammals are willing to share one of the most crucial resources; food.”

Most animals share food, but to date there has been little research exploring the role of oxytocin on what is seen as entirely social behaviour.

Dr Olszewski has received a three-year, $760,000 Marsden Fund research grant and will undertake a series of experiments involving the application of oxytocin and its influence on the willingness to share food.

“We speculate that the hormone oxytocin, a hunger suppressant that also increases social interactions and feelings of altruism and love, is responsible. It’s one of the ways of explaining the phenomenon,” says Dr Olszewski.

In one of the experiments he will use intranasal oxytocin spray on human subjects and gauge its effect on their willingness to share.

“Once we decide to share, at the same time oxytocin kicks in and we no longer feel hunger which allows us to share our resources - this elevates your status in a social group and secures your children’s well-being.

“We hope to find out if there is some mechanism that regulates this willingness to share food. It is not a decision that drops upon us; it is to a large extent driven by our biology.”

The Marsden Fund is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Marsden Fund Council, and funded by the New Zealand Government. It supports projects in the sciences, technology, engineering and maths, social sciences and the humanities.

The University of Waikato recieved six Marsden Fund grants.


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