Doctoral Researcher Ahmad Abu-Akel has had his paper accepted by Psychoneuroendocrinology. He has conducted research into the effect of the hormone oxytocin on the empathic responses of Israeli Jews to pain experienced by Palestinians, in collaboration with the University of Haifa in Israel and the University of Chicago in the USA.

Ahmad Abu-Akel

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 towards the pain experienced by Palestinians in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict afforded a natural experiment that allowed for the examination of the role of neurohormones in emotion sensitivity across conflicting social groups. In this study, 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. The administration of oxytocin remarkably increased empathy to the pain of Palestinians, attenuating the effect of in-group empathy bias observed under the placebo condition. The authors proposed that this effect is driven by the general role of oxytocin in increasing the salience of socially relevant information. In this case, increasing the perception of adversary out-group members as social beings may attenuate the negative inter-group emotions and biases during intractable conflicts.

These findings have important implications for reconciliation and conflict resolution. For example, training Israeli and Palestinian members of the negotiating parties to consciously contemplate the perspective of the other, could render efficacious in cultivating positive intergroup relations. The authors hypothesize that the resulting attitudinal changes would be associated with changes in oxytocinergic functioning. These types of changes can create an environment where peace is given a chance in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Reference: Shamay-Tsoory, S.G.*, Abu-Akel, A.*, Palgi, S., Sulieman, R., Fischer-Shofty, M. Levkovitz, Y., Decety, J. (In press). Giving peace a chance: Oxytocin increases empathy to pain in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Psychoneuroendocrinology.

* Authors contributed equally to this work.