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The chemistry of trust: can oxytocin enable successful mediation?

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In his groundbreaking TED Talk that went viral, Dr. Paul Zak explored the ways in which the hormone oxytocin supports human interconnectedness. His findings have important implications on the field of mediation.

Oxytocin is a chemical produced in mammals, which is released under certain types of stimulus. When released, it increases happiness. It enables us to feel what other people feel. Oxytocin has been shown to increase trust and generosity in people without altering their cognition. It also creates a greater sense of empathy and an enhanced ability to connect with others.

Oxytocin and dispute resolution

Litigation can often be a traumatic experience for those involved. Participants are frequently under high stress and may be more prone to fight or flight response, which inhibits oxytocin. For this reason, litigation often offers little room for open dialogue and negotiation.

Mediation, on the other hand, is designed to be a more amicable way of reaching an agreement over a dispute. In order to be effective, it is important for participants to approach mediation with openness and trust—which is where oxytocin production becomes key.

How to boost oxytocin

While oxytocin can be induced pharmacologically, there are also simple strategies of boosting the chemical in our bodies. Activities such as dance, massage, praying and hugging have been shown to spike oxytocin levels. In addition, participating in activities that connect us with other people, such as attending a wedding or engaging with other on social media, increases oxytocin.

Many mediators are now taking an active interest in the neuroscientific findings of oxytocin. They are learning strategies to boost oxytocin levels in their clients in order to create more successful outcomes in mediation.

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