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It’s all about oxitocyn: Trust Factor. The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, by Paul Zak, AMACOM, New York, 2017, 261 pp., 22.36€, ISBN: 9780814437667

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It’s all about oxitocyn
Trust Factor. The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, by Paul
Zak, AMACOM, New York, 2017, 261 pp., 22.36€, ISBN: 9780814437667
José M. Díaz-Dorronsoro
To cite this article: José M. Díaz-Dorronsoro (2020) It’s all about oxitocyn, Church,
Communication and Culture, 5:3, 502-504, DOI: 10.1080/23753234.2020.1821730
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© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
Published online: 27 Nov 2020.
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Its all about oxitocyn
Trust Factor. The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, by Paul
Zak, AMACOM, New York, 2017, 261 pp., 22.36e, ISBN: 9780814437667
Paul J. Zak is an American neuroeconomist who explores the relationships between the
brain and the economy. In particular, he is interested in knowing what physio-neural
mechanisms determine or intervene in human and social economic activity. In 2012 he
published a surprising essay entitled The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and
Prosperity, whose ideas serve as a starting point for the book we are now discussing: Trust
Factor. The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies.
Zak defends the thesis that what distinguishes us humans from animals is that we are
the only ones who develop moral feelings. As humans we are obsessed with morality,
whether we have faith in God or not. Based on this axiom (whose veracity he accepts with-
out the need for proof) he asks himself as a scientist if this obsessionhas a biological basis.
More specifically, he is interested in discovering whether there is a chemistry of morality.
His investigations, which results are spread throughout the book that we review, lead him
to conclude that there really is, because everything is related to oxytocin, a hormone that is
released before pleasant stimulation, such as hugging, caressing, or performing actions that
make us feel good. The release of oxytocin into our blood makes us more confident, open
and friendly.
The conclusion that Zak draws is this: Oxytocin is the substance that moves us to be
good people, and not so much specific ideas or beliefs. Moreover, as he has stated on other
occasions, the act of praying with confidence to God causes the release of oxytocin in peo-
ple with faith, which moves them to feel pleasure in prayer and to perform courageous
actions of generosity and dedication to others. For this author, we are moral beings because
we release oxytocin. And, for the same reason, we are immoral because we lack it. Oxytocin
is the substance that makes us simply human (p. 21).
If we apply these conclusions to the field of business and economics, we find the thesis
that Zak defends in this book: a company is predisposed to success when all employees
enjoy good levels of oxytocin. Therefore, executives should encourage good business habits
to stimulate oxytocin among their employees, as they will have more confidence, more
empathy and more cooperation, the business will be more profitable and the income
will increase.
Zak, who scientificallysupports all these arguments, concludes that in companies with
a high level of trust, compared to those with a low level of confidence, their employees are
50% more productive, have 106% more energy, are 76% more involved and are 66% more
sociable with other employees (p. 196). In addition, they suffer less stress by 74% and work
more happily by 36% (p. 195).
These results combined with knowledge of the hormonal processes involved in oxytocin
release show that building trust can be truly beneficial, both for managers, employees and
companies in terms of productivity and effectiveness.
To build trust, Zak proposes eight actions or attitudes that can be encouraged within
companies to help employees release as much oxytocin as possible while working. As he
insists on demonstrating, these are measures that are easy to introduce, as long as managers
2020, VOL. 5, NO. 3, 502504
have sufficient will, energy and strategy. These actions, with some forcing, make up the
acronym OXYTOCIN: Ovation, eXpectation, Yield, Transfer, Openness, Caring, Invest,
and Natural. Each one of them is explained and developed in individual chapters, which
comprise the greater part of the book. Two final chapters, Joy and Performance, serve to
conclude the work. According to Zak, it is important to encourage the eight actions,
because each one contributes to organizational trust in a specific percentage, measured with
great scientific precision by the author. The model shows that the OXYTOCIN factors can
be used as leverage to increase organizational trust. Trust, combined with an organizations
transcendent purpose, creates a culture of high engagement. Enthusiastic colleagues delight
customers by providing extraordinary service. Customers are appreciative and express their
happiness, causing colleagues to experience joy at work ("Joy"). When colleagues get this
positive feedback, the organization sustains high performance(p. 24).
The focus of the book is eminently practical, written in a pleasant and accessible style,
and addressed to an audience more interested in doing business than in science. The author
illustrates his ideas with numerous anecdotes coming from different experiments and
observations made in medium and large companies. In addition, at the end of each chapter
he offers a series of tasks or suggestions for good practice to be applied in the company
(Monday Morning List). In this sense, it is an entertaining book and, at a certain point,
interesting, because beyond the strong biological determinism that dominates the whole
text, it is true that many of the ideas are based on common sense, without the need to sub-
mit them to a laboratory experiment. I mean that it is always a good idea to promote in
organizations a climate of cooperation, understanding, openness, care, etc., as measures
that presumably favor employee satisfaction and not the opposite. After all it is true that
the companies that perform better are those where employees are happier and where an
atmosphere of trust prevails.
But, I really have to disagree with the underlying message that is evident between the
lines: it is useful and interesting to be a good person because it is the best way to guarantee
your economic success. This utilitarian vision, which puts ones own individual well-being
as the reason for acting freely, proves in the long run to be fallacious because the exercise
of good habits or virtues- implies a way of acting that does not guarantee such success.
Moreover, if the aim is only to achieve such a success, very soon mischief or personal weak-
ness will offer us more direct ways, even if they are immoral.
There is also a great biological determinism in Zaks considerations that lead to a some-
what utilitarian approach to the relationship with employees: it is not so much their per-
sonal and human development that is of interest, but rather that they perform as well as
possible economically.
Indeed, there are voices that have been raised against Zak and, by extension, against a
commercialist interpretation of neural studies. Molly Crockett, a Yale University neuro-
physiologist trained at Oxford, is perhaps one of the most critical of Zaks theses, as they
lead to a false exploitation of neuroscience for commercial purposes. She has also been very
critical towards some science journalisms practice of exaggerating the results that have
occurred in this field in recent years. She has carried out similar studies on the relationship
of the brain with decision-making, taking serotonin as a reference substance. Her conclu-
sion is that science has no capacity to judge the morality of our decisions. Science, in itself,
can only explain the chemical mechanisms that are activated in our organism when we
make one or another decision, but that has nothing to do with morality. A good moral
action can provoke the same chemical reactions in the organism of one person as a bad
action in the organism of another. For example, just as some people find pleasure in petting
puppies, so do others find pleasure in torturing them. In both cases the same segregation of
oxytocin and serotonin chemicals is produced. According to her, recent discoveries in
neuroscience have led to exaggerated expectations with little foundation. One of those
affected by this fever would be Dr. Zak. Recognizing the value of his experiments, many
others like him show instead that oxytocin stimulates envy, arrogance or people seeking the
selfish interest of their group against others. So, oxytocin could also be called the
immoral molecule.
In short, it is important to take care of our corporal health, precisely because a healthy
body allows a correct secretion of oxytocin to help us act freely and responsibly. But this
does not mean that the chemical components of our organism absolutely determine our
spiritual being and, therefore, the exercise of our freedom.
a di Comunicazione Sociale Istituzionale, Pontificia Universit
a della Santa Croce,
Roma, Italia
Received 10 July 2020; accepted 11 July 2020
ß2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
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