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Pfundmair, Michaela; Schindler, Simon and Burgstaller, Jessica (2019): The role of oxytocin in terror management processes. In: Psychoneuroendocrinology, Vol. 103: pp. 83-86

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Research on terror management theory found evidence for the idea that attachment and interpersonal touch attenuate existential concerns and worldview defense reactions after mortality salience. Oxytocin, on the other hand, is known for stimulating the attachment system. Therefore, we hypothesized that worldview defense reactions after mortality salience would be attenuated under oxytocin. In the present study, participants administered oxytocin or placebo and performed a typical terror management paradigm: After visualizing death or a control topic, worldview defense reactions were assessed by evaluating the authors of a pro- and an anti-German essay. Overall, the results did not provide strong support for the hypothesis. There was no effect of mortality salience on the overall worldview defense measure and, importantly, no moderation by oxytocin. However, with regard to the sympathy dimension, the expected pattern was revealed: The pro- and anti-German authors were evaluated as more balanced under oxytocin after mortality salience, whereas this was not the case under placebo. This was due to more positive evaluations of the anti-German author in the oxytocin group. Although this specific result was not expected a priori, sympathy was the only trait among all worldview defense variables that referred to a social level. Therefore, it seems possible that oxytocin is able to buffer existential concerns, but only if they are socially relevant.

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