Trust Me: Eat More Turkey
Trust Me: Eat More Turkey11/21/2007
Although scientists have long since determined that tryptophan—a chemical precursor to serotonin that exists in turkey, chicken, beef and cheese, among other foods—doesn’t induce post-Thanksgiving meal drowsiness, a group of researchers at the University of Oxford, England, have found some evidence linking depleted tryptophan levels to a decreased level of trust. The results of this research were presented earlier this month at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Neuroscience 2007, held in San Diego. An article in today’s Technology Review onlinealso digs into this recent research.
As noted in the TR article, the framework for the study involved volunteers playing a two-person game known as “the prisoner’s dilemma,” where players can either choose to make a move to win only themselves money—taking money from the other player—or a move that secures more money for both players. Eventually, the players deduce that the best strategy is to cooperate, which occurs about 75% of the time.
For the purposes of the study, half of the volunteers were given a drink that depleted tryptophan levels—subsequently decreasing serotonin levels in the brain—before starting the game. Results showed that doing so significantly decreased the level of cooperation between the two players, and that players with depleted tryptophan levels rated fellow players as less trustworthy. “The findings suggest that a serotonin deficit might impair sustained cooperation,” says Robert Rogers, Ph.D., senior research fellow in psychology, University of Oxford, and a lead researcher of this study.
The Oxford researchers are now beginning experiments to determine how boosting tryptophan levels might affect trust.