The science of morality and why trust is all in your head

Paul J. Zak, author of The Moral Molecule and neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University, discovered that we all possess a trust molecule – a molecule that is affects our morals and judgements.

It is called Oxytocin and it is a hormone which helps us bond with people, and a neurotransmitter which carries signals within the brain.  You might have heard of it as a sort of love potion because whenever you hug someone the level of oxytocin in your body rises.

Zak found that the more oxytocin we have in our bodies, the more trust we experience and the more ‘moral’ are our choices.

Zak says “In our blood and in the brain, oxytocin appears to be the chemical elixir that creates bonds of trust not just in our intimate relationships but also in our business dealings, in politics and in society at large.”

His experiments showed that when our levels of oxytocin are raised we respond with generosity and consideration.  We experience feelings of empathy that directly affect our moral judgements.

Zak found that there are a couple of exceptions to the rule.  He found that 5% of people don’t release oxytocin.  He also found that testosterone can inhibit the production of the trust molecule, and that situations which cause stress to trigger the release of testosterone.

So what does all this have to do with you as leader?

Think about it.  How much better might your team be if everyone trusted each other and made choices that were best for the team rather than the individual?

All you need to do is to show your team members that you trust them.  When they feel trusted their levels of oxytocin rise, making them more responsive to you, more trustworthy and more likely to make the right choices.  You can imagine the effect it might have on a team when each member is giving signs of trust to each other.

Part of your leadership skills will also need to be directed to the management of difficult situations so that your team experiences only minimal levels of stress so nothing interferes with the release of oxytocin.

If you put in place policies which encourage and build trust you will find that your team is able to work better and produce better results.

How can you raise trust in your workplace?  We know that oxytocin levels rise when there is some form of physical contact but, other than a handshake or a pat on the back, that is not always appropriate in the workplace.  But something as simple as a smile, a thumbs up and praise for work well done makes people feel good about themselves and their performance.  That’s the oxytocin kicking in.

If you’d like to know more about trust and oxytocin have a listen to the TEDTalk given by Paul Zak.

Phone 1300 719 665  www.soniamcdonald.com.au

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