I won’t go as far as the people who say that psychology is biology not understood yet, but I came to this subject because an acquaintance of mine recently asked me ‘what is the main factor in team performance?’.
Often team performance, team dynamics and team spirit seem to be surrounded by the “mystery” of human interaction, in a positive or negative way. Little attention and research has been dedicated to unraveling the biological mechanisms behind these phenomena.
That is to say, until neuro-economics came of age. Neuro-economics is the study of neural mechanisms related to decision-making. Not only in relation to economic or monetary rewards, but also in relation to human interaction. An important factor studied a lot here, is trust.
Now, trust is of course one of the fundaments of team interaction. Do you trust the other person or not – it is important, since it influences all your interactions with that team member, colleague or player.
Trust is a very deep-rooted feeling, not limited to persons only, but also to material, to environment to situations and even to yourself.
Before, trust was the domain of psychologists, but recently trust also became the subject for endocrinologists. Research shows that the level of trust for a large part is related to the level of the hormone oxytocin.
Oxytocin, a neuropeptide, is one of the hormones that colours our relationships with others.
Oxytocin is responsible for a fast labor process in women, but is also produced in men.
It is important for humans in general as it inhibits ACTH and cortisol production, improves cognitive functions and memory, it modulates anxiety. And in this context increases pro-social behaviours like facilitating trust and attachment between individuals and it increases empathy and generosity.
These qualities might be improving trust within a team and thus increase the probability of a better team performance. Oxytocin has other interesting properties as well, but I won’t bore you with those.
Oxytocin cannot be taken orally (will be broken down in the stomach to amino acids, having a peptide structure) nor by injection (does not penetrate the blood-brain barrier). But the best way to get oxytocin into the brain is by a nasal spray composition, it has been tested many times and it works! It is manufactured as a prescription medication under different names in many countries e.g. Synthocinon.
If you work in team sports, let your players, before getting onto the pitch, or on the court take a whiff of oxytocin nasal spray, it might work and it is still legal. Again, you think this is too far-fetched? Read the first article.
Pepping, G.J; Timmermans, E.J: Oxytocin and the Biopsychology of Performance in Team Sports; The ScientificWorld Journal; Volume 2012, Article ID 567363, pg.1-10.
Stroh, L.K: Trust Rules. How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life. Praeger, 2007.
Heinrichs, M; von Dawans, B; Domes, G: Oxytocin, vasopressin, and human social behaviour; Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology; Vol.30, 2009, pg.548-557.
Quintana, D.S; Kemp, A.H; Alvares, G.A; Guastella, A.J: A role for autonomic cardiac control in the effects of oxytocin on social behaviour and psychiatric illness; Frontiers in Neurosci; doi: 10.3389/fnins.2013.00048, pg.1-9.
Uvnas-Moberg, K: The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping The Hormone Of Calm, Love, And Healing; DaCapo Press, 2003.
Zak, P.J: The moral molecule. Dutton Publ. 2012.