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The Trust Gene
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

How do two people decide to trust one another? What induces people to trust certain people and to be suspicious of others? If the answer to this question is "trial and error," then how do we explain the fact that different cultures vary widely in their general levels of trust?

Research has shown that countries that rank high in mutual trust are among the healthiest and most affluent. In fact, the level of trust is one of the strongest indicators of the general economic health of the country. Those states that rank low in trust tend to be more impoverished, apparently because there is less inclination to invest in long-term projects, which depend upon the trust between both sides that commitments will be kept.

There is a small molecule in the brain, a hormone known as oxytocin, which plays an important role in trust formation. This protein is well-known for being responsible for the milk-letdown reflex in nursing mothers, as well as stimulating labor contractions. Recently, though, researchers have found that a rise in oxytocin levels reduces social anxiety and enhances trust and friendship between people. Quite literally, it is a "bonding" hormone.

Researchers use what they call a “trust game” to measure levels of trust between participants. The game works by giving two partners ten dollars each in an “account.” One participant is then asked if he or she wants to send a share of the account to the partner. The experimenters will triple the amount the subject chooses to contribute. For example, if the subject wants to donate six out of the ten dollars, the partner will receive $18. The partner is then asked if he or she wants to give back to the partner some of what was given. Researchers took blood samples of the partners engaged in the “trust game,” and found that the more the oxytocin level rose, the more the subjects trusted each other and gave more money.

The recent discovery of neurobiological roots of emotional/spiritual behaviors can perhaps explain the Jewish traits of commitment and determination, in spite of all obstacles. Due to this characteristic, the Jewish people are referred to by our sages as "believers, sons of believers." This trait is passed on to us by heredity!

Every Jew has within himself or herself a treasure of holiness, and has the capability to bring this hidden good into actuality. The long exile has perhaps dampened our faith somewhat; covered it over in dust and grime. However, the superficial tarnish can never change our essence. In just a short time, we will merit the revelation of Moshiach, who will reveal within every one of us that spark of full faith, full trust--the essence of a Jew, which cannot and will not be separated from its source, the Divine.

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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