Giving peace a chance: Oxytocin increases empathy to pain in the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict

Studies have argued that empathy to the pain of out-group members is largely diminished by “in-group empathy bias”.

Investigating the mechanism underlying the emotional reactions of Jewish Israeli participants toward the pain experienced by Palestinians in the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict affords a natural experiment that allows us to examine the role of neurohormones in emotion sensitivity across conflicting social groups. In a double-blind placebo-controlled within-subject crossover design, Israeli Jewish participants were asked to report their empathy to the pain of in-group (Jewish), neutral out-group (European), and adversary out-group (Palestinian) members.

Oxytocin remarkably increased empathy to the pain of Palestinians, attenuating the effect of in-group empathy bias observed under the placebo condition.

This effect, we argue, is driven by the general role of oxytocin in increasing the salience of social agents which, in turn, may interfere with processes pertaining to derogation of out-group members during intractable conflicts.