Serotonin may affect our sense of fairness

Serotonin has long been associated with social behavior, and low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and anxiety, but its precise involvement in impulsive aggression has been controversial. Though many scientists have hypothesized a link between serotonin and impulsivity, this is one of the first studies to show a causal link between the two.

The findings highlight why some of us may become combative or aggressive when we have not eaten. The essential amino acid necessary for the body to create serotonin can only be obtained through diet; our serotonin levels naturally decline when we don't eat.

The research also provides insight into clinical disorders characterized by low serotonin levels, such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and may help explain some of the social difficulties associated with these disorders.

UCLA scientists reported in April that the human brain responds to being treated fairly the same way it responds to winning money and eating chocolate; being treated fairly turns on the brain's reward circuitry. In the new Science study, they and their Cambridge colleagues report that people with low serotonin levels were found to be more sensitive to being treated unfairly.

The Science study involved 20 subjects, 14 of them female, with an average age of 25. As in the April study, published in the journal Psychological Science, participants were presented with fair and insulting offers for dividing sums of money. If they declined, neither they nor the person making the offer would receive anything. Some of the offers were fair, such as receiving 5 Brisith pounds out of 10 or out of 12, while others were unfair, such as receiving 5 pounds out of 23.

In this study, however, after initially responding to the offers, participants were given a drink that significantly reduced their serotonin levels. They were then presented with the offers again.

When their serotonin levels were reduced, they rejected 82 percent of the unfair offers; when their serotonin levels were normal, they rejected only 67 percent of the unfair offers. Thus, people with low serotonin levels were more likely to reject unfair offers.

“The same person may experience the same thing as fair and unfair on different days based on how the neurochemistry of the brain is functioning,” said study co-author Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience. “When we feel something is unfair, that may have to do with how our brain causes us to experience the world. Our subjects are not aware their serotonin levels are affecting the way they experience the world. This suggests we should be more forgiving of other people's perspectives.”

“A sense of fair play is not a purely rational process,” he added. “It seems not to be the case that, like a math formula, if something is fair, it's fair for all time, in all situations.”

Media Contact

Stuart Wolpert EurekAlert!

More Information:

http://www.ucla.edu

All latest news from the category: Life Sciences and Chemistry

Articles and reports from the Life Sciences and chemistry area deal with applied and basic research into modern biology, chemistry and human medicine.

Valuable information can be found on a range of life sciences fields including bacteriology, biochemistry, bionics, bioinformatics, biophysics, biotechnology, genetics, geobotany, human biology, marine biology, microbiology, molecular biology, cellular biology, zoology, bioinorganic chemistry, microchemistry and environmental chemistry.

Back to home

Comments (0)

Write a comment

Newest articles

China claims new world record for strongest steady magnetic field

The hybrid magnet at the Steady High Magnetic Field Facility (SHMFF) in Hefei, China set a world record for the highest steady magnetic field by a working magnet when it…

Metaholographic platform that detects light exposure

During the COVID-19 pandemic last year, an incident occurred where vaccines exposed to room temperature had to be discarded. Biomedical substances, including vaccines, risk deterioration if not stored properly, so…

Similarity of hepatocytes from liver and from stem cells improved

Research with stem cells is becoming increasingly important, because stem cells can develop into any body cell – skin cells, nerve cells or organ cells such as liver cells, the…

Partners & Sponsors