As well as facilitating parturition, the hormone oxytocin is thought to mediate "prosocial behaviour" in mammals. It’s been a while since I have read the literature, but I am aware there is robust evidence that oxytocin mediates social bonding and pair bond formation. Acute administration of oxytocin can also increase social cognition such as facial recognition and trustfulness in games of cooperation between strangers

Games of deception could be an interesting paradigm under which to study the effects of oxytocin. in poker, one's ability to bluff is a core skill. I am always amused by the percentage of pro-poker players i see on late night TV wearing sunglasses-- either photophobia is greatly over-represented in this cohort, or more likely, facial expressions and in particular, the eyes, are important cues for the detection of deception.

This has got me wondering: Would acute administration of intranasal oxytocin have beneficial or deleterious effects upon performance in games of deception such as poker?

Moreover, might one expect differential effects of oxytocin among poker players with Asperger’s syndrome, such as the irreverent Tony G?

On one hand, oxytocin could improve one's ability to recognise facial expressions, particularly eye expressions indicative of deception. Conversely, oxytocin might evoke some sort of "miscalibration of social meta-cognition", leading a misplaced sense of trust in the intentions of opponents.

Alternatively, I think that oxytocin's role in social cognition is far more nuanced than how I understand it to be. actually, I have no doubt about that.

For instance, aside from inconsistencies in the literature, the papers I’ve read tend to highlight a "pro-affiliative" skew towards oxytocin maintaining cohesion amongst those with whom we're already familiar, the in-group. With regards to the out-group, I have this impression that it's geared towards "not throwing the first punch."

Any thoughts on the possible effect of oxytocin upon poker and other games of deception, or more broadly, how to more accurately frame my understanding of the social milieu within which oxytocin functions?



1 Answer 1


One of the very recently published studies linked to in the question, on the relationship between exogenous oxytocin administration and ability to accurately detect deception, instructed participants to self-administer oxytocin by nasal injection before evaluating contestants' decisions in videos of the Friend or Foe game show (Israel, Hart and Winter 2014). They reported that:

Rather than improving subjects’ inferences about others’ mental states, oxytocin impeded accurate assessments of trustworthiness in risky social exchanges. Oxytocin decreased prediction accuracy but did not increase predictions of cooperative behavior in general.

The evidence reported in Israel, Hart and Winter (2014) clearly implies that exogenous oxytocin would have deleterious effects in games of deception such as poker. However, it may not be as simple as that.

Another study proposed that oxytocin may exert its apparent effects by increasing the attentional salience of social information, and that the effect may thus be mediated by interpersonal factors like perceived group membership (Ten Velden et al., 2014). They reported a complex set of results broadly consistent with this hypothesis based on a simplified poker game task:

Results permit three conclusions. First, intranasal oxytocin does not increase indiscriminate benevolence in humans. This conclusion follows from the observation that in competitive interactions, humans given oxytocin reduce competitive approach only when their protagonist is an in-group member, and do not show an increased preference for settlement when protagonists are from a rivaling out-group. Second, and relatedly, intranasal oxytocin promotes cooperative conflict resolution in within but not between group competitions. This conclusion follows from the observation that, compared to placebo, oxytocin increased a preference for settlement with in-group protagonists, but not with out-group protagonists. Third, and finally, in competitive interactions, intranasal oxytocin does not influence preferences for withdrawal. This conclusion follows from the observation that regardless of competitive strength, and regardless of the protagonist's group membership, oxytocin exerted no influence whatsoever on the tendency to “fold” in the competitive poker-game studied here.

Note that while the Ten Velden (2014) study used a poker-like task, it did not report on differences in ability to detect deception.


  • Israel, S., Hart, E., & Winter, E. (2014). Oxytocin Decreases Accuracy in the Perception of Social Deception. Psychological science, 25(1), 293-295.
  • Ten Velden, F. S., Baas, M., Shalvi, S., Kret, M. E., & De Dreu, C. K. (2014). Oxytocin differentially modulates compromise and competitive approach but not withdrawal to antagonists from own vs. rivaling other groups. Brain research, 1580, 172-179.

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