Scientists have discovered that people with high levels of serotonin are more likely to succeed in delicate negotiations affecting their own interests.
Serotonin is manufactured in the body from the amino acid, tryptophan, which is present in several foods like cheese, meat, soya beans, sesame seeds, chocolate, oats, bananas, dried dates, milk and salmon.
So perhaps eating a cheese sandwich before your meeting with your boss could swing things your way.
A study, on volunteers, by psychologists at the University of Cambridge found that when the levels of the brain chemical serotonin were low, the volunteers were more likely to allow emotion to rule their heads and make decisions that harmed their long-term interests.
When high levels of serotonin were produced the volunteers behaved in a more rational, level-headed fashion, putting their own material advancementahead of the short-term satisfaction of telling their boss exactly what they thought of them.
This is one of the first studies to demonstrate the role of serotonin in resulting emotion and aggression in social decision making.The findings help explain why some people tend to over-react to a perceived unfairness, becoming angry and combative, when they haven’t eaten.
The experiment was carried out on 20 people aged from 20-35. Each volunteer was asked to fast overnight before being given a protein-rich drink in the morning, followed some four hours later (once it was digested), with a request to participate in a financial negotiation called the Ultimatum Game.
All the volunteers participated twice – once receiving a shake with tryptophan removed and once receiving a normal, tryptophan-rich shake.
The game, which has been used for decades in studies of economic behaviour, involves one player proposing to split a sum of money, say £10, with a partner. If the partner accepts, both players receive their agreed shares but if the partner rejects the offer, neither player is paid. Normally players tend to reject about half of all offers of less than £2.50 (25 per cent of the total stake), even though this means they receive nothing, because their anger at the perceived unfairness outweighs their interest in the cash. But among players with low serotonin who had received the tryptophan-free shake, the rejection rate rose to 80 per cent. Molly Crockett, of the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, who led the study published in Science Express, said: “The Ultimatum Game is a favourite of economists to show that human decision making is not rational. If it were rational we would accept every offer, even those that are really unfair, but that is not what happens.” She concluded: “Our results suggest serotonin plays a critical role in social decision making by keeping aggressive social responses in check. Changes in diet and stress cause our serotonin levels to fluctuate naturally, so it is important to understand how this might affect our everyday decision making.”