ScienceDaily — The hormone oxytocin makes people more susceptible to advertising, according to new research presented at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held in San Diego. The findings suggest that advertisements may exploit the biological system for trust and empathy.
The researchers, directed by Paul Zak, PhD, at Claremont Graduate University in California, found that people treated with oxytocin donated 56 percent more money to causes presented in public service announcements. Study participants who received oxytocin also reported that the advertisements made them feel more empathetic.
After sniffing a spray of oxytocin or a placebo, participants viewed short public service announcements that had aired on television in the United States and the United Kingdom. The advertisements presented the dangers of smoking, alcohol, reckless driving, and global warming. Participants then reported how they felt about the people and issues presented in the advertisements. They were also given an opportunity to donate a portion of the money they had earned from participating in the experiment.
“Our results show why puppies and babies are in toilet paper commercials,” Zak said. “This research suggests that advertisers use images that cause our brains to release oxytocin to build trust in a product or brand, and hence increase sales,” he said.
Barraza, J.A., et al., Oxytocin infusion increases charitable donations regardless of monetary resources, Horm. Behav. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.04.008