Oxytocin shapes the neural circuitry of trust and trust adaptation in humans.
Trust and betrayal of trust are ubiquitous in human societies. Recent behavioral evidence shows that the neuropeptide oxytocin increases trust among humans, thus offering a unique chance of gaining a deeper understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying trust and the adaptation to breach of trust. We examined the neural circuitry of trusting behavior by combining the intranasal, double-blind, administration of oxytocin with fMRI. We find that subjects in the oxytocin group show no change in their trusting behavior after they learned that their trust had been breached several times while subjects receiving placebo decrease their trust. This difference in trust adaptation is associated with a specific reduction in activation in the amygdala, the midbrain regions, and the dorsal striatum in subjects receiving oxytocin, suggesting that neural systems mediating fear processing (amygdala and midbrain regions) and behavioral adaptations to feedback information (dorsal striatum) modulate oxytocin's effect on trust. These findings may help to develop deeper insights into mental disorders such as social phobia and autism, which are characterized by persistent fear or avoidance of social interactions.