Hypothesis:

Birth cohort specific hypothalamic hormone levels create physiological and behavioral differences between generations, and also eras of varying group coherence

Text: Janne Miettinen

First version: Oct 2018 | Last update: Feb 2020

Note: This text is a work-in-progress.

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Table of Contents:

1 The resurgence of populist nationalism and xenophobia
1.1 Current societal trends
1.2 A generational hormone cycle
1.3 Generational hormone theory

2 Social hormones and group behavior
2.1 Social hormones and history
2.2 Neural in-group vs. out-group separation
2.3 Social hormones and populist nationalism

3 Generational history and social hormones
3.1 The Strauss-Howe generational theory
3.2 Historical oxytocin levels
… 3.2.1 Oxytocin and parenting intensity
… 3.2.2 Oxytocin and breastfeeding rates
… 3.2.3 Oxytocin and maternal age
… 3.2.4 Oxytocin and divorce rates
… 3.2.5 Oxytocin and alcohol consumption
… 3.2.6 A model of generational oxytocin levels
… 3.2.7 Oxytocin and political ideology
3.3 Historical vasopressin levels
… 3.3.1 Vasopressin, dopamine, and group coherence
… 3.3.2 A model of generational vasopressin levels
3.4 A model of generational oxytocin and vasopressin levels

4 Group division and conflict
4.1 Human and chimpanzee group division
4.2 Societal paths of tightening group coherence
4.3 In-group empathy and scapegoating of the out-group

5 Other cyclical hypothalamic hormone levels
5.1 Estrogen and testosterone
5.2 Thyroid hormones

6 Initial conclusions
6.1 Possible societal trajectories
6.2 A review of solutions to decrease the appeal of populist nationalism
6.3 Physiological issues
6.4 Unresolved questions


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1 The resurgence of populist nationalism and xenophobia

1.1 Current societal trends

Nationalism, populism and xenophobia have been on the rise in the Western cultures for approximately the last twenty years. Both globalism and multilateralism are increasingly rejected. (S) Ideological polarizations are getting stronger every year. (S)(S)(S) Social divisions based on ideological identity can be clearly seen in basically all Western nations today, as two or more sides are separating from each other, creating ideological rifts. (S)(S) Hate crime is becoming more common (S)(S), including anti-Semitism. (S)(S)(S) Many scholars have compared the 2010s to the 1930s, since many of the same societal effects can be observed to have become more prevalent during those decades that are 80 years apart.

Continuing listing the current societal trends: the status quo of global(istic) politics is being challenged at an accelerating pace. (S) Press freedom is increasingly being restricted by state actors (S)(S), free speech is being restricted by non-state actors (S), and religious freedoms are being suppressed. (S) News outlets are increasingly ideologically divided (S), fake news are more frequent, and lying on behalf of one’s own ideological beliefs (S) is becoming more common. Not even the scientific community is safe from the effects of the post-truth era. (S)(S)(S)

Most studies and pundits explain the movement towards populist nationalism, and more generally the polarization of opinions in political and civic life, by explaining that they happen because of different societal phenomena like mass immigration, economic inequality and social media platforms that are polarizing opinions by forming echo chambers and allowing the distribution of fake news. (S)(S) These phenomena are assumed to create anxieties for the voters of populist nationalists, and the so called “liberal elites” are said to be out of touch. But none of the explanations or explanatory models built on these observations can predict or explain the rise of populist nationalism or the other mentioned phenomena with satisfactory accuracy, and the accuracy gets even worse when trying to apply these explanatory models to several or all of the Western nations, or to similar societal situations throughout the history.

Tendencies towards populist nationalism are growing basically in every democratic nation in Europe, and this movement started well before any big immigration or economic crisis of the 2010s. Nationalism grew as the economic situation in Europe was good and it has kept rising through the worse economic times. Financial crises do raise populist support for a while, but in a historical perspective populist support has generally leveled out in about 4 years after a crisis. (S) It’s the same thing with immigration crises: the pace of the rise of nationalism and support for populist parties hasn’t changed much through the years, not on the far-right or the far-left end. Nationalism and populism are not the same thing, but nationalistic parties are more often populist than not, especially on the far-right of the political spectrum. (There are ongoing discussions about the precise meanings of these and other related terms, but these issues will be addressed later on in chapter 3.)

Populist vote share            in Europe 1998-2018
Populist vote share in Europe from 1998 to 2018. (S)

The overall increasing support for populist nationalism in Europe has been very clear and steady over the past 20 years. The incremental maps below from 1998 to 2018 illustrate how each European country has followed its path to the current situation of higher than average support for populist parties.

Rise of populism in            Europe, 1998-2018
Populist vote share in Europe from 1998 to 2018. (S) After these maps were published, nationalists made their way to the parliaments of Latvia in October 2018 (S), Estonia in March 2019 (S), and Portugal in October 2019 (S). This means that there isn’t even one European nation without nationalists in their parliament in 2020.

According to Gini statistics below, economic inequality can’t explain the rise of nationalism and populism, as income inequality hasn’t changed much in the EU, and has actually gone down for most countries during the last 20 years. In the U.S. income inequality has risen, but attempts to raise taxes on the top earners or otherwise level out economic inequality have been pretty rare even on the left, highlights being the candidacy of Bernie Sanders and movements against the big banks (and neither can be said to be very much associated with populist nationalism).

Income inequality in            EU and USA
Gini income inequality index from 1988 to 2016. (S)

Gini isn’t the only indicator that should be looked at, as low interest rates and quantitative easing by the worlds central banks have had a lifting effect on rent prices in Europe and the U.S., which has affected mostly low-income workers and may contribute to the dissent against the so called “elites”. But still, the economic conditions and employment numbers have generally gotten better during the last five years, and yet populism has increased at the same time. (S) Poland is a prime example of a nation that has had record economic success during recent years, but in spite of this, populist nationalism and xenophobia have risen sharply:

“This is not 1937. Nevertheless, a parallel transformation is taking place in my own time, in the Europe that I inhabit and in Poland, a country whose citizenship I have acquired. And it is taking place without the excuse of an economic crisis of the kind Europe suffered in the 1930s. Poland’s economy has been the most consistently successful in Europe over the past quarter century. Even after the global financial collapse in 2008, the country saw no recession. What’s more, the refugee wave that has hit other European countries has not been felt here at all. There are no migrant camps, and there is no Islamist terrorism, or terrorism of any kind.” (S) But if Poland was undergoing an economic depression today, the situation would very likely be used as a reason for the current increases in nationalism and xenophobia. Outside of Europe, Australia isn’t much different from Poland, as their uninterrupted economic boom has been going on for almost three decades, and nationalism is on the rise at the same time as it is in Europe and the U.S. (S)(S)

Social media platforms on the other hand seem to accelerate the divisions between individuals with diverging ideological stances: “Social media use tends to diversify communication within social networks by making people aware of what others think and feel about political and social issues. Social media enhance the perception of difference, and interpersonal contacts in these environments are typically rated less positively than interpersonal contacts in face-to-face communication.” (S) Moral-emotional posts tend to spread more effectively on social media platforms (S), and the platforms do play a role in the increasing polarization, but mainly as a catalyst: “Despite these limitations, this study has provided evidence that social media contribute to the growth of negative affect in political communication. Moreover, this negative affect is related to the comparatively high degree of perceived political disagreement that people encounter in social media settings. Thus, to a certain extent, perceived disagreement in social media settings has its roots in affective communication processes.” (S) So if social media is mainly intensifying the current societal trends, whatever they may be at a certain point in time, what could be the root cause for the increases in populist nationalism among Western nations?

The theory/hypothesis presented here suggests that the studies and pundits blaming the economic disparities, immigration, social media, and other “usual suspects” for the rise of populist nationalism are probably correct in their observations of these phenomena occurring at the same time or before the rise of populist nationalism, but at the same time are fundamentally incorrect in how these phenomena affect the societal change, and thus can’t build working models to explain the rise of populist nationalism in detail. This is because these mentioned societal phenomena are expected to mainly work as catalysts for a generational movement, a generational cycle to be more precise, which is affecting the rise and fall of nationalism in Western nations at intervals of roughly 80 years.

This theory suggests that these catalytic events essentially hide a significant reason for the rise of xenophobia and populist nationalism, just like the Great Depression of 1930s has often been claimed to be the main reason for the rise of nationalism and anti-Semitism in pre-WW2 Germany and elsewhere. (S) The goal of this theory is to prove that generationally varying levels of social hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which control the “in-group vs. out-group” dynamic, largely modulate the historical increases and decreases of societal phenomena like populist nationalism and xenophobia.

1.2 A hormone cycle

This theory presents that oxytocin and vasopressin levels have large variances throughout an 80 year cycle, creating behavioral trait differences between generations, and that the varying social hormone levels create rising tides of nationalism, that essentially being tightening in-group cohesion, a phenomenon that seems to occur every 80 years in many Western nations. In history this era is usually preceded by roughly four decades of globalism, liberalism and relatively peaceful times. All of these different eras and generations will be reviewed, but as they have already been presented extensively by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe in their books Generations and The Fourth Turning (summaries at Wikipedia and LifeCourse), the larger goal is to review how oxytocin and vasopressin modulate human social behavior and how these hormones are linked to the Strauss-Howe generational theory of 4 x 20 year generations, an 80 year cycle in total.

Presenting a cyclical generational theory solely on the basis of biology would be very difficult, because there are no longitudinal / multi-generational studies including direct measurements of oxytocin or vasopressin. But by reviewing presumed hormone levels through proxy statistics, like breastfeeding statistics for oxytocin levels, and combining these findings with presumed oxytocin and vasopressin modulated behavior that is connected to historical observations made by Strauss & Howe, the combination should reveal a generational hormone cycle if there is one to be found.

When looking at other animal species than humans, many have population cycles that are very repetitive. The length of population cycles are about 4 years for small mammals like lemmings and voles, 6 to 9 years for larch budmoth and red grouse, 8 to 11 years for snowshoe hare and forest Lepidoptera, and approximately 38 years for moose. (S)(S)(S)(S) The suggested cycle length is 80 years for human populations. There are over 1000 years of records of larch budmoth cycles that demonstrate the consistency of these cycles – the average being 9.3 years. (S) Below is a more recent statistic from the last century as an example, with the cycle showing high consistency across several decades.

Larch budmoth density cycle
Values 0.001-1000 indicate population density. (S)

It should be noted that animal population cycles can break and stay dormant, but also recover, like the lemming population cycle statistic below illustrates.

Lemming population            cycle
Values 0-5 indicate lemming population density. (S)

Predators and limited food supply have been suggested to drive these cycles, but because the cycles do manifest even when these two factors are excluded, it has to be concluded that something else is creating these cycles. (S) This theory suggests that the real explanation lies within the endocrine system that controls animal hormone levels, thus their biological factors and behavior. Two Russian neurobiological studies have focused on the generational changes to the endocrine system in voles and lemmings during their four year population cycles, and these studies state that there are large generational variances between their hormone levels, including oxytocin, vasopressin, and hormones secreted by the hypothalamus. This is due to generational changes to the parts of the hypothalamus that produce and secrete hormones. (S)(S) These two studies will be used as a template for the suggested human generational hormone cycle.

Below are key excerpts from these two studies as examples displaying the nature of the four year cycle: the 1989 lemming study (S) measured the changes to the mass of the hypothalamic neurons and their effects on the endocrine system, and the 2006 vole study (S) measured the percentage of efficient vs. inefficient hypothalamic neurons in detail – both studies confirmed large generational variance in the different regions of the hypothalamus. These studies will be returned to throughout this theory in more detail, but the excerpts below represent their key findings.

Generational variance in the lemming endocrine system during different phases of the cycle. Phases II and III represent the changes during the cycle’s last year/quarter. (S)
Generational hormone cycle of the Northern Redbacked Vole
The number of neurosecretory cells with high amount of oxytocin or vasopressin in different parts of the voles’ hypothalamus at different phases of the four year cycle. (S) OX = oxytocin. VP = vasopressin. PVN = paraventricular nucleus. SON = supraoptic nucleus.

This generational hormone theory suggests and presents evidence that Western human populations experience similar generational changes to their endocrine system like the cyclical lemming and vole populations. The endocrine system uses hormone levels to control and coordinate for instance stress response, reproductive behavior, mood, and development. As functions of the hypothalamus have been tightly conserved through mammalian evolution, this makes findings from rodents largely translatable to humans. (S)(S) The results from these lemming and vole studies will be used throughout this theory to demonstrate that humans have a similar generational hormone cycle, and that this cycle is in sync with the Strauss-Howe generational theory’s observations about generational behavioral traits and also historical societal change.

There have been several attempts during the past decades to explain the animal population cycles through environmental variances, but just like the common models to explain the rise of the current human societal issues, basically all explanations and theoretical models have been lacking in evidence and/or repeatability. This theory concentrates on the Western nations, since the Strauss-Howe generational theory covers mainly the US generations, but because those generations share many cultural and behavioral similarities with concurring generations in other Western nations, this leads to suspect that the Western generations have more in common than just cultural similarities, referring to common generational hormone levels. The term ‘hormone levels‘ used throughout this generational hormone theory means that the hypothalamic neurons that secrete hormones are either small and inefficient or large and more efficient, just like with the cyclical lemming and vole populations.

1.3 Generational hormone theory

To shortly characterize the content of this generational hormone theory: it is proposed that most Western nations have generationally varying/oscillating hormone levels that shape the typical behavioral and also physiological traits of generations, the same generational traits the Strauss-Howe generational theory presents from the Anglo-Saxon generational history. These varying hormone levels also affect group coherence and the “in-group vs. out-group” setting, which has already been established through a multitude of studies in both social psychology and neurology, and these changes to group coherence follow the Strauss-Howe generational theory’s 80 year cycle of group coherence. (S)(S)(S)(S) (Dopamine levels have a major effect on the tightness of larger social groups like nations, and dopamine levels are presumed to be in sync with the generational vasopressin levels that are presented in chapter 3.)

Thus, this generation hormone theory aims at providing a biological basis for the Strauss-Howe generational theory and uses it as a framework along with historical proxy statistics and the animal population cycle studies to establish a generational hormone cycle for human populations. Especially oxytocin and vasopressin are at the center of this theory, since those are social hormones that modulate group coherence and group behavior in general: oxytocin is more relevant in the context of family and friends and vasopressin is more relevant in the context of territoriality and group aggression. Even though the behavioral effects of oxytocin and vasopressin are a relatively novel area of research, this theory aims at binding their behavioral effects into societal phenomena, especially to the in-group vs. out-group behavior, and after that connect these established types of group behavior into historical eras in order to find correlating points in history that are repeating every 80 years.

Even though genetic factors have an effect on the in-group vs. out-group division, they are confined out of this theory, since on a national level the genetic differences between individuals and generations are leveled out. (S) Hormone receptor SNPs are negated at this point for the same reason. (There are differences in the mean SNP distribution between nations and continents, but for the moment, this is also left aside.) Transgenerational epigenetic effects are mostly left aside because they are case sensitive, except for chapter 3.2.7 where it is shown that varying degrees of generational nurture intensity (documented in the Strauss-Howe generational theory) causes different levels oxytocin receptor methylation for different generations. Differences in hormone effects between sexes are currently mostly negated, but will be implemented later on.

Biologically the proposed human generational hormone cycle is very similar to the documented lemming and vole generational cycles. From the viewpoint of sociology, this theory takes both micro and macro levels into accounted for by looking separately at individual and group behavior, which are both modulated by hormone levels.

– After the introductory chapter 1 that has laid out the current societal trends of populist nationalism and challenged the old insufficient explanatory models used to describe their root causes, chapter 2.1 is a short introduction to how hormone levels are related to history; 2.2 is an introduction to oxytocin and vasopressin, and their effects on individual and group behavior; 2.3 looks at how social hormone related traits are linked to populist nationalism.

– Chapter 3.1 presents the Strauss-Howe generational cycle in more detail; 3.2.1 reviews how time spent with children is linked to the parent’s oxytocin levels; 3.2.2 reviews historical evidence of breastfeeding initiation and its connection to oxytocin; 3.2.3 reviews the average maternal/paternal age and its connection to oxytocin; 3.2.4 reviews historical divorce rates and their connection to oxytocin levels; 3.2.5 ties generational oxytocin levels to changing alcohol consumption rates in history; 3.2.6 presents the generational oxytocin levels based on the previously presented proxy statistics; 3.2.7 compares the presumed oxytocin system effects to generational voting behavior; 3.3.1 ties eras of tight/loose group coherence and nationalism to changing dopamine and vasopressin levels; 3.3.2 presents the presumed generational vasopressin levels; 3.4 presents a model of the generational hormone cycle and explains it in more detail.

– Chapter 4.1 takes a closer look at chimpanzees exhibiting similar group behavior and division patterns as humans do; 4.2 lays out possible paths nations undergo when group coherence tightens; 4.3 ties the phenomena of scapegoating to increasing in-group empathy.

– Chapter 5.1 Ties lower levels of sex hormones to the reproductive difficulties experienced during the 21st century and also other health issues; 5.2 presents the increasing prevalence of hypothyroidism that has occurred during the past few decades.

– Chapter 6.1 presents conclusions based on the findings made throughout this theory; 6.2 analyzes the commonly suggested tools on how to suppress populism; 6.3 previews the trajectories of issues related to physiology; 6.4 includes some open questions.

This theory is a byproduct of a master’s thesis looking at oxytocin and vasopressin levels being connected to aggression. (S)(S) Sources used are mainly from areas of neurobiology, neuropsychology, sociology, and history. Quotes are used to underscore some of the most important aspects of the biological and historical evidence central to this theory. Sources are linked almost always only once in their most relevant context. Although much more could be stated about many aspects regarding this theory, the text is streamlined in its current state to be as coherent and easily accessible as possible. Because this the text is still a work-in-progress, the content may not always be in optimal order.

2 Social hormones and group behavior

2.1 Social hormones and history

This chapter is an introduction to oxytocin and vasopressin, and how the human brain uses them to modulate individual and group behavior. Oxytocin and vasopressin are the paramount social hormones in mammals, including humans. (S) The intent is to point out that many of the current societal trends that were presented in the introductory chapter, mainly the rise of populist nationalism and its related phenomena, are created by higher oxytocin and especially vasopressin levels. (Oxytocin’s physiological effects related to breastfeeding etc. are reviewed in chapter 3, and vasopressin’s societal effects will be included increasingly to the theory in chapters 3 and 4.)

Human behavior essentially consist of the response of individuals and groups of humans to internal and external stimuli. The standard viewpoints to history concentrate on the external stimuli, but this theory adds a layer of internal stimuli in the form of generational hormone levels. Hormone levels modulate individual and group behavior, and also group formation and coherence. Average hormone levels affect how individuals and groups react to:

1) other individuals;
2) groups;
3) the environment that these individuals and groups live in.

In order to explain how hormones relate to history, human history will be mostly viewed as group behavior, that being divided into in-groups and out-groups. Typical in-groups are family, friends, gender, nation, culture, ethnicity, religion, political ideology, etc. Out-groups are basically comprised of people belonging to other in-groups than one’s own in-groups.

Looking at history as group behavior is a divergence from the more traditional setting of mainly analyzing individual leaders and their associates, and how their actions have impacted history. The intent is not to entirely disregard historical individuals who want to advance their own cause and rise to power by using populist messaging, but instead this theory explains when and why individuals are open, or perhaps even inclined, to receive populist messaging, largely negating the belief that this happens solely due to societal issues, but instead due to a hormone cycle that’s repeating every 80 years.

2.2 Neural in-group vs. out-group separation

Social hormones oxytocin and vasopressin are produced in the magnocellular neurons of the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei, and these hormones travel along the axons into storage sites in the axon terminals of the posterior pituitary. (S) In response to signals from the same hypothalamic neurons, the hormones are released from the axon terminals into areas of the brain (S) and bloodstream.

Vasopressin is generally known to increase anxiety-like behaviors, stress responsiveness, aggressiveness, and territoriality. (S)(S) Oxytocin promotes closeness for families and enforces social networks, but also promotes defending that network against those who are different. (S) Oxytocin can deepen the wedge towards “the others” who think or look different, those who are often outside their own social networks. (S) Higher oxytocin levels lead to a more active separation between in-group and out-group, a sorting of “us vs. them”. The graph below illustrates the biobehavioral system of how oxytocin affects identification of and behavior towards an individuals in-group and out-group. (S)

Oxytocin pathways to group                                psychology

This group psychology modulation by oxytocin can turn higher oxytocin (and vasopressin) levels into higher levels of xenophobia and nationalism. (S)(S) This social psychology study links in-group division to nationalism: “In explaining differences between groups, people ascribe the human essence to their in-group and consider out-groups as less human. This phenomenon, called infra-humanization, occurs outside people’s awareness. Because secondary emotions (e.g. love, hope, contempt, resentment) are considered uniquely human emotions, people not only attribute more secondary emotions to their in-group than to out-groups, but are reluctant to associate these emotions with out-groups. Moreover, people behave less cooperatively (in terms of altruism, imitation, and approach) with an out-group member who expresses himself through secondary emotions… Yet, preliminary results show that subjective essentialism and in-group identification may mediate the effects of infra-humanization. A connection is made between nationalism and infra-humanization… We believe that infra-humanization and nationalism are the two sides of the same coin.” (S)

The same study also suggests an another path to how nationalism rises: “There is still another possibility, which may better apply, we believe, to nationalism. Nationalism occurs in situations in which external forces induce people to consider their in-group and a given out-group as parts of a common superordinate group.” Both of the suggestions laid out here basically fit the theory of oxytocin related rise of nationalism, the in-group mechanism towards populism and also the latter mechanism regarding external forces, which could widely be labeled as populism. Populism is the most efficient way to incite and spread nationalism, and the tendency for nationalism rises with increased social hormone levels. Social hormones promote humans to form tighter packs within their social networks and remove the ones who basically don’t think or look like they do.

Oxytocin has also been found to increase affection towards the flag of one’s own country, which adds to the reasoning that the social hormones increase nationalism. (S) Flags are essentially in-group symbols.

On the evolution of cooperation within in-group and hate of out-group: “Although cooperation between groups is not unusual, most forms of human cooperation are in-group bounded and, sometimes, motivated by the desire to ward-off and subordinate rivaling out-groups. Building on evolutionary perspectives and models, we propose that humans evolved a capacity for parochial cooperation, which entails in-group love: the tendency to cooperate with and extend trust toward those others who are similar, familiar rather than unfamiliar, and belong to one’s own group; and out-group hate: a willingness to fight against rivaling out-groups. This chapter reviews our own work, and that of others, showing that parochial cooperation emerges especially when it benefits individuals’ within-group reputation, affects one’s within-group status, is more prominent among individuals with chronic prosocial rather than proself value orientation, and is sustained and motivated by oxytocin, an evolutionary ancient hypothalamic neuropeptide pivotal in social bonding, pair–bond formation, and empathic responding. Across the board, findings resonate well with relatively recent evolutionary theory on (inter)group relations and add to classic theory in social psychology.” (S)

Other studies show similar results regarding oxytocin and group bias: “Results show that oxytocin creates intergroup bias because oxytocin motivates in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation.” (S) A good example of oxytocin’s xenophobic effects is in the Dutch study on whether you sacrifice a person who has a typical Dutch name, or if you sacrifice a man with a foreign Muslim name. Increase the person’s oxytocin levels who is making the choice, and the choice that is made will show more xenophobic tendencies; an individual will now more likely to sacrifice the man with a Muslim name. (S) The rationalization by the test subject doesn’t really matter, as it can be pretty much anything, but the changing end result does matter. And this is what oxytocin can influence; it can change the end result of a decision that associates ideological and cultural values, no matter the rationalization formed in the individual’s thoughts.

Oxytocin not only promotes in-group conformity, it also alters perceptions of trust and fairness, which could further ease the conforming to in-groups opinions: “The results reported here demonstrate that oxytocin stimulates in-group conformity. When asked to rate novel visual stimuli on attractiveness and when in-group and out-group members exhibited opposing preferences, individuals given oxytocin expressed preferences that were closer to those of the in-group than the out-group. This finding provides novel evidence that oxytocin is involved in influencing people’s preferences about actual stimuli, complementing earlier work demonstrating that oxytocin alters perceptions of more abstract concepts, such as generosity, trust, and fairness.” (S)

In addition to oxytocin altering perceptions, it also produces group-serving dishonesty: “We report here the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment showing that the hormone oxytocin promotes group-serving dishonesty. Compared with participants receiving placebo, participants receiving oxytocin lied more to benefit their groups, did so quicker, and did so without expectation of reciprocal dishonesty from their group members… Apparently, oxytocin boosts group-serving behavior, rather than adherence to general moral codes, a conclusion that fits work showing that oxytocin sustains and enables social bonding as well as trust and cooperation, especially toward those belonging to one’s own group. Thus, rather than being a neurohormonal modulator of moral tendencies and universal cooperation, oxytocin appears to function to serve group interests, whether it is through parochial cooperation and self-sacrifice, through lashing out against those who threaten group members, or as shown here, through dishonesty and moral code breaking.” (S)

It should be noted that oxytocin did not promote lying to gain individual benefits in the study, the lying was done only in order to gain benefits specifically for their own group. But since oxytocin has been found to ramp up the innate social reasoning skills, it is likely that higher levels of oxytocin enable more dishonesty without losing the feeling of integrity. (S)

Altruism can be seen as a good force in the human behavior, but it has its limitations that seem to follow conformity and herd mentality: “Some of the most fundamental questions concerning our evolutionary origins, our social relations, and the organization of society are centered around issues of altruism and selfishness. Experimental evidence indicates that human altruism is a powerful force and is unique in the animal world. However, there is much individual heterogeneity and the interaction between altruists and selfish individuals is vital to human cooperation. Depending on the environment, a minority of altruists can force a majority of selfish individuals to cooperate or, conversely, a few egoists can induce a large number of altruists to defect.” (S)

Oxytocin also promotes altruistic punishment: “…our results suggest a different perspective on the popularly known ‘moral molecule’, as we show that OT [oxytocin], rather than having an effect on positive emotions, amplifies strong negative emotions (i.e. anger) towards non-cooperators within small groups… Consistent with the finding that emotions, in addition to rational considerations, work as a proximate mechanism to induce norm-enforcing behavior, our data suggests that OT might have an amplifying effect on social emotions, including negative, which ultimately triggers the punishment of defective behavior and leads to the enforcement of social norms.” (S)

These mentioned cooperative models of group behavior have been shown to be evolutionarily efficient by mathematical and game theory models (S), and it also important to note that these behavioral cooperative mechanisms have a neurobiological basis. (S)(S)

2.3 Social hormones and populist nationalism

To sum up the findings above, below is a short list of expected changes in individual and group behavior when oxytocin and vasopressin levels increase.

1. More nationalism, xenophobia and demands for in-group cohesion.
2. Negative emotions towards in-group non-cooperators.
3. Perceptions of trust and fairness are altered as group-serving lying is promoted, which is enforced by higher innate social reasoning skills.
4. Infra-humanization of out-groups and willingness to fight out-groups.

Points 1 and 2 are often a big part of populist ideology, point 3 basically lays out the post-truth aka. fake news era. Points 1-3 of these group behavior changes have been on the rise for the last 20 years or so in the Western nations, as presented in the introductory chapter, when compared to the 1990s. Only point 4 is yet to fully materialize, but there are growing efforts to label Muslims and other culturally differing groups in the Western nations increasingly as out-groups, and there have been a large number of terrorist attacks between Muslims and “natives” opposing Islam and its cultural teachings. (S)(S) The number of hate groups has also increased in the US and the EU. (S)(S)

Increased oxytocin levels leads to higher levels of empathy (S), but since the separation between in-groups and out-groups is increasing at the same time, this combination can lead to a “wrong kind” of empathy, as the rising feelings of empathy is directed towards the tightening in-group, and coupled with vasopressin this empathy can even lead to aggressive behavior (S) towards in-group non-cooperators and out-groups (presented in chapter 4). Advocates for populist nationalism use the feelings of empathy constantly to their advantage in their messaging.

Since higher levels of oxytocin increases anxiety towards unpredictable threats (S), and vasopressin enhances anxiety when in high levels, populist nationalist leaders gain support by talking about these in-group and out-group threats by presenting ways to address them straight on. Many experts on populist nationalism claim that anxiety among populist voters is created by economic worries, but this doesn’t seem to be the case, as these anxieties are actually created through emotions – especially fear:

“Populism peddles a politics of fear—of crime, terrorism, unemployment, economic decline, the loss of national values and tradition—and asserts that other parties are leading their countries to disaster. Surveys make clear that populist voters are extremely pessimistic: they believe the past was better than the present and are extremely anxious about the future. But pessimism has infected Western societies more generally. A recent PEW survey for example revealed that even though growing percentages of European citizens view their country’s economic situation as dramatically better than a decade ago, this has not translated into greater optimism about the future. Indeed, in many European countries the “experience-expectation” differential has grown: in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany, for example, approximately 80 percent or more say the economy is doing well, but less than 40 percent believe the next generation will be better off than their parents. These views reflect a troubling reality: particularly in times of change and uncertainty, people’s views are shaped more by emotions than rationality.” (S)

Populist leaders can therefore gain support through creating/compounding economic anxieties. As an example, Brexit supporters claimed that exiting EU would be beneficial to the UK economy (which is quite probably not true), and Donald Trump targeted China (and expressed empathy towards coal miners in his presidential campaign). Anxieties related to xenophobia seem to most often be an efficient way of gaining populist votes, but a combination of anxieties towards immigrants and economic worries seems to be an even more efficient combination for populists in many instances: “illegal immigrants stealing the jobs and committing crimes” or “selfish Jews hoarding capital at the top” for example are commonly used. These kinds of combinations of oxytocin and vasopressin enhanced anxieties have been used in order to make scapegoats and gain popularity through thousands of years of political history. (S)(S)(S)

In addition, a 2018 study reveals that higher levels of oxytocin and especially vasopressin flatten social hierarchy: “OT [oxytocin] reduces differences in social behavior between dominant and subordinate monkeys, thereby flattening the status hierarchy. OT also increases behavioral synchrony within a pair. Intranasal delivery of aerosolized AVP [vasopressin] reproduces the effects of OT with greater efficacy. Remarkably, all behavioral effects are replicated when OT or AVP * is injected focally into the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACCg), a brain area linked to empathy and other-regarding behavior.” (S) The findings could further explain why so many of the populist leaders achieve success by claiming to be “a man of the people”, and also why the “liberal elites” and Jews, who are often seen as holding places of power, are increasingly despised during times of rising populist nationalism. Even though this particular though the study was done on rhesus monkeys, the effects of the social hormones oxytocin and vasopressin have similar properties among primates.

(* Vasopressin is very similar in structure and can upregulate oxytocin receptors (S) if in high amounts: “Given the similarity in the structure of OT and AVP, OT can bind to AVP receptors with a lower affinity compared to OT receptors and vice versa. V1A [receptor] is expressed in the forebrain and is the receptor that is most often linked to the regulation of social behavior…” (S))

Based on all of the presented studies, it can be stated that increased levels of social hormones probably manifest as stronger levels of documented human group behavior like in-group favoritism, out-group homogeneity, and group conformity (i.e. large scale behavioral synchrony). (S)(S)(S)(S)

3 Generational history and social hormones

3.1 The Strauss-Howe generational theory

This chapter aims at building historical context for the generational hormone cycle by looking at broad longitudinal ideological shifts in the history of Western nations. Since this chapter includes a lot of historical claims, the sources and quotes are not presented to be indisputable facts, but are used to construct a “bridge” between the Strauss-Howe generational theory and the social hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. The four 20 year generations are introduced and then explained how they form a repeating cycle of 80 years in total like William Strauss & Neil Howe have thoroughly theoreticized and documented in their books including Generations (1991) and The Fourth Turning (1997). (S)

According to the Strauss-Howe generational theory a four generation cycle goes on roughly at intervals of 2030-2010 | 2010-1990 | 1990-1970 | 1970-1950…, with each of the four generation having detectable individual and group behavioral traits. (S) One full 80 year cycle is called an Anglo-American saeculum, and these generations span all the way back to the 15th century England. The years are approximations and vary slightly between the books and this theory since the books are based on historical observations and this theory on a more coherent biological cycle. (S) Strauss & Howe use the word ‘turning’ to describe a roughly 20-year long phase.

A 1st generation is born during a 1st turning, which were the Boomers in the 20th century. The generations and their traits were easily observable during the 20th century (Baby Boomers, Generation-X, Millennials) in most Western nations, especially in the U.S., due to their appreciation of personal freedoms and consumerism. Changes to youth culture mostly generated in the U.S. and spread on from there to other Western nations that were receptive to these movements, presumably by them having similar cyclical hormone levels as is presented later on.

The most volatile point in the 80 year cycle has historically been the last (4th) turning, when a so called Prophet/revolutionary generation, labeled here the 1st generation (Baby Boomers in the current cycle) is largely holding the places of maximum civic and economic power. This has historically been a time of civic turmoil; old beliefs are challenged, group coherence tightens, institutions falter and the status quo is changing rapidly towards the end of a 4th turning. A new 1st turning generally starts with a new status quo of civic life in place. Below are short descriptions of the four turnings accompanied by short quotes from the book The Fourth Turning (and approximate years of birth from the current cycle):

1st turning (1943-1960): “An upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays.” The society is unified and there is optimism about the future, institutions are trusted. The society eventually starts a movement towards globalism and liberalism, but nationalistic/patriotic pride is still strong. A 1st generation is born into an era of cooperation, and is a more optimistic, daring and selfish generation than the previous (4th) generation. This sense of optimism has been observed even in the offspring of holocaust survivors. (S) A 1st generation is historically the populist generation once they gain major political power during a 4th turning.

2nd turning (1961-1981): “A passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime.” In a second turning the 1st generation leads the youth revolution and the more rigid nationalistic culture of the first turning makes way for a strong culture of liberalism, much through 1st generation young adults. A 2nd generation is born and raised very loosely, becoming a generation of independent individuals, driving the rise of individualism in their young adulthood during the next (3rd) turning.

3rd turning (1982-2004): “A downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants.” In the 3rd turning the family structures are weak and individualism is strong. A 3rd generation is born into a relatively peaceful liberal world and they become a more communal and also more cosmopolitan in their ideological views than the previous generations. General trust towards institutions starts to decay, and this accelerates during the next (4th) turning.

4th turning (2005-2027): “A decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.” In a 4th turning the 1st generation enters positions of most political power and nationalistic coherence tends to reach its peak towards the end of the turning (different paths are assessed in chapter 4). (S) The 1st generation with their confidence and capital power tend to drive the economic bubbles to new heights before the bust, like in 1929 and 2007. (S) Nationalism increases, ideological sides are being chosen at an accelerating pace, and cooperation among (possible) opposing factions of society deteriorates. This crisis era will basically either unify or divide a society even further. Information outlets and individuals with large audiences like celebrities begin to weigh in their opinions more and more in the increasingly polarized public ideological debate. A 4th generation is born, and they are sensitive, sentimental, and their stress receptivity is high, just like today’s youth is often referred to as “snowflakes” by the older (and also bolder) generations.

A 4th turning can be compared in many ways to puberty. In puberty, hormones are released into the body from the posterior and anterior pituitary of hypothalamus, and this starts to accelerate the maturing process. (S) Opinions strengthen and the individual often searches for a group he/she can strongly align/ally with. “The social mood changes” Strauss & Howe often remind their readers of what happens in a 4th turning once the so called crisis era begins. Authorities, institutions and old beliefs are challenged and a somewhat different identity emerges as a result of this process. If an individual has differences of opinion for example with his/hers parents before puberty hits, puberty will quite likely make the situation worse. Similarly, if a society has polarized ideological opinions when a 4th turning begins, these issues are prone to get worse.

Another example of varying hormone levels and its effects to mood is the menstrual cycle: women in their reproductive years have mood swings that are caused by their menstrual cycle, and they react according to their mood, like with increased anxiety, a mood which is modulated by their hormone levels.

If a society has problems/polarizations, be they economic, or something else, these problems will grow larger once the anxieties of a 4th turning begin, and this is presumably due to high vasopressin levels, which correlate with higher anxiety levels, since vasopressin is anxiogenic. (S) High vasopressin levels therefore result in anxious and polarizing group behavior, which is exactly what the Western nations experienced during the 2010s (just like the Strauss-Howe generational theory predicted in the 1990s), and this can be observed in the US statistic below that illustrates the party divide beginning to increase even though the issues haven’t become more polarized.

The US party/group divide grows, but the issues aren’t as polarized. (S)

In other words, the stance on political issues has not changed much in over 20 years, but the group affiliation to political parties has become much stronger. The partisan divide began between 2005 and 2010, and a similar trend can be observed to have happened in the UK in the beginning of the 2010s.

Polarization in the UK (by generation) begun in the early 2010s. (S)

There obviously are differences in individual hormone levels and behavior, but looking at a generation as a whole averages out these individual differences and, for example, youth culture and voting behavior are good indicators of how a generation acts and what are their preferences and behavioral traits. As most people are married to and have a majority of their friends from their own generation, this enhances the effects of hormone levels to individual and group behavior through behavioral synchrony, that is enhanced through higher levels of social hormones (presented in chapter 2).

To very shortly further characterize the generations by echoing the Strauss-Howe generational theory, listed below are youth culture examples from the current cycle, highlighting the generational social mood found in music and movies for the 1st (revolutionary/optimistic), 2nd (individualistic/darker), 3rd (communal/heroic) and 4th (sentimental/caring) generations. Aesthetic experiences like music activates the brain’s reward system (S), and the four generations have different preferences in what kind of music they prefer to listen to. Since aesthetic experience is basically a biological mechanism reacting to sensory input, this implies that different generations have different brain structures that affects their behavior, and different hormone levels can change the brain structure due to brain plasticity. (S)(S)

1st: Boomers | Music: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis. | Movies: Rebel Without a Cause, Easy Rider.
2nd: Generation X | Music: Nirvana, Metallica, Madonna. | Movies: Star Wars and Halloween franchises.
3rd: Millennials | Music: Foo Fighters, Spice Girls, Lady Gaga. | Movies: Harry Potter and Marvel franchises.
4th: Generation Z | Music: Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes, Billie Eilish. | Movies: The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner franchises.

The following chapters present evidence of generational oxytocin and vasopressin levels. Chapter 3.2 presents historical (proxy) statistics of child nurture intensity, breastfeeding, maternal/paternal age, divorce, and alcohol consumption rates in order to establish common points in history when oxytocin levels have been high or low. Chapter 3.3 looks at vasopressin levels through other proxy statistics. These findings are bound together in chapter 3.4, where it is presented that different generations have different levels of social hormones oxytocin and vasopressin (on average). That chapter also explains how these varying levels of social hormones affect the generational traits and presumably also the social mood during the different turnings as is described in the Strauss-Howe generational theory.

3.2 Historical oxytocin levels

3.2.1 Oxytocin and parenting

Higher oxytocin levels in parents leads to more time spent with children. (S) The Strauss-Howe generational theory states the following about child nurture (S) intensity: 1st turning nurture is relaxing, 2nd turning nurture is underprotective, 3rd turning nurture is tightening, and 4th turning nurture is overprotective, after which the next 1st turning child nurture is once again loosening. The graphic below illustrates the 80 year cycle in nurture intensity (where the 2nd turning is roughly from 1965 to 1985 in the current cycle).

Type of nurture during turnings
‘Turnings’ and ‘generations’ (red text) have been added for clarity. Social ‘eras’ are explained in detail in Strauss & Howe’s books Generations (1991) and The Fourth Turning (1997).

Looking at the statistic below, it seems that the 1970s were the time when American parents spent the least time with their children. (S) The statistic shows a pattern similar to the breastfeeding initiation and maternal/paternal age statistics that are reviewed next. The bottom year is close to 1975 and the top year seems to be close to 2005-2010, repeating the same years as with the breastfeeding rate and paternal age statistics. There is also a steeper climb from 1975 to 1985 like with the breastfeeding rate and maternal/paternal age statistics (reviewed next).

Time spent                  with children

The statistic closely correlates with the Strauss-Howe generational theory regarding how much parents are giving attention to bringing up their children. For example, in the 1970s bringing up children was much more carefree than in the 2000s. (S) Other Western nations also show large increases in parenting time since the 1970s. (S)

3.2.2 Oxytocin and breastfeeding rates

Breastfeeding initiation statistics should correlate with oxytocin levels, as breastfeeding requires oxytocin to enable the milk let-down reflex. (S)(S)(S) “Circulating oxytocin is critical for normal birth and lactation. Oxytocin is synthesized by hypothalamic supraoptic and paraventricular neurons and is released from the posterior pituitary gland into the circulation… While it might be controversial as to whether oxytocin plays an indispensable role in parturition, the critical role that oxytocin plays in milk let-down during lactation is not disputed. The release of milk is mediated by secretion of oxytocin from the posterior pituitary gland, and oxytocin’s action at OTR in the mammary gland induces a rise in intra-mammary pressure and release of milk: an oxytocin-mediated reflex upon suckling.” (S)

All available breastfeeding statistics from Western countries indicate that there is a low point in breastfeeding rates close to 1965-1975: U.S. (S), Australia (S), Norway (S), Sweden (S), New Zealand, and England & Wales. Even Japan shows a similar curve. (S)

US breastfeeding initiation rate
Breastfeeding rates in Australia
Breastfeeding in Sweden
Breastfeeding rates in New Zealand
Breastfeeding rates in Japan and Norway
Breastfeeding in the UK

A verbal statement about the US rates reinforces the statistics that the rates were higher in the 1930s than in 1970’s: “Seventy-seven percent of the infants born between 1936 and 1940 were breastfed; the incidence declined during the subsequent decades to about 25% by 1970.” (S)

When looking at earlier centuries for similar patterns of low points in breastfeeding in the US, there unfortunately are no breastfeeding statistics from the 19th century, but here is a quote from the year 1887 that provides answers: “Then, bizarrely, American women ran out of milk. “Every physician is becoming convinced that the number of mothers able to nurse their own children is decreasing.” Another reported that there was “something wrong with the mammary glands of the mothers in this country.”…In the United States, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century physicians, far from pressing formula on their patients, told women that they ought to breast-feed. Many women, however, refused. They insisted that they lacked for milk, mammals no more.” (S)

And from 80 years earlier, this text may provide answers: “As with so many popular trends, there came a backlash against the use of wet nurses. Come the late 1700s/early 1800s—as part of the reform movements that swept across the social landscape of Europe and the United States—many women and men were calling for a return to in-home breastfeeding of babies by their own mothers.” (S) If there were calls to return to breastfeeding, that could indicate that the breastfeeding rates by biological mothers quite possibly have been low during that point in history. (And as a side note, the quote also mentions the social reform movements happening at the same time, just like during the 1960s and 70s, decades of large social reforms in Western nations.)

Historical UK breastfeeding rates closely echo the findings from the U.S. The following quote enforces this presumption: “The interwar [between WW1 and WW2] years saw the start of a long, steady decline in breastfeeding… breastfeeding rates in mothers leaving the postnatal wards dropped to below 20 per cent around 1970… there is no doubt that the 1970s represent a nadir in breastfeeding rates… But, for whatever reason, it is a fact that breastfeeding rates were much lower in the 1970s than in the decades before, and lower than they are now [2007].” (S)

In addition, since oxytocin is also required for parturition, and there is a negative correlation between caesarean section and breastfeeding rates, this enforces the presumption that breastfeeding statistics indeed correlate with the mother’s oxytocin levels. (S)(S)(S)

As for the connection between child the child nurture intensity, Generation X (a 2nd generation) was born during roughly 1960-1980 (years slightly differing between Western nations) and would, according to the Strauss-Howe generational theory, be a 2nd generation and receiving underprotective child nurture. (S) Parent’s high oxytocin rates lead to more affectionate/intense nurture and low oxytocin rates lead to less affectionate/intense nurture. (S) The graph below illustrates that the Australian breastfeeding rates are at their lowest point for birth of Generation X, which correlates with low nurture intensity due to low oxytocin levels. (S)(S)

Breastfeeding                  rates and nurture
The Strauss-Howe generational theory’s nurture intensity compared to a proxy statistic for oxytocin.

The statistical evidence therefore supports the presumption that the Strauss-Howe generational theory’s 80 year nurturing intensity cycle is actually a generational oxytocin cycle with a span of 80 years. Maternal/paternal age, divorce rates and alcohol consumption rates reviewed next add even more support to this claim.

3.2.3 Oxytocin and maternal age

Higher oxytocin levels have been linked to higher maternal age in a recent study. (S) Taking the years 1970-75 as the presumed low point for oxytocin levels like with the breastfeeding statistics, there seems to be a high degree of correlation: the UK (S), Canada (S), Australia (S), Denmark (S), Austria (S), the US (S), the Netherlands (S), Norway (S), and France (S) all show very similar statistics with low points occurring close to the year 1970. (In the US the lowest point was actually closer to 1965, but the curve starts to go up close to 1970-75.) Japan is showing a similar but less pronounced effect (S) with only a minor decrease in maternal age, but the breastfeeding stats are also less varied in Japan when compared to other nations where stats are available.

Age of mothers
Age of mothers                  in Australia
Average                        age of mother
Average age of                  mothers in France
Age of mother at childbirth in the Netherlands
Age of                        mothers in Canada

The similarity of these statistics is very apparent, and they share a similarity with the breastfeeding charts. This implicates that the average generational age of motherhood may be quite strongly modulated by generational oxytocin levels.

What is possibly even more important to note is that the statistics display that physiological and behavioral effects of oxytocin go hand in hand, indicating that hormone levels have a large impact on at what age to reproduce, something that is normally considered to be a very personal decision. Parenting intensity is also linked to these same curves, enforcing the idea that generational oxytocin levels modulate both behavior and physiological effects at the same time.

Previous statistics have taken only mothers into account, but the statistic below of average paternal age show yet again a very similar curve when compared to the maternal age and breastfeeding statistics. (S) Men become fathers being a few years older than women on average, which is why the stats lag a few years from the statistics of maternal age. (S) This implies that the changes to oxytocin levels are happening simultaneously for men and women (which is not surprising since couple’s hormone levels have been found to be in sync). (S)(S) The graph is very similar to the maternal ages presented before with the lowest point being during the 1970s, with only a few European countries lagging behind: Russia, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Czech Republic from the east and Spain from the south. (S)

History of                  paternal age in europe

Having children later in life is very similar to the lemming cycle, since they reproduce later (and less) during the peak phase of their cycle (S), their peak being roughly equivalent to a 4th turning. In human studies higher baseline levels of oxytocin has been attributed to higher prevalence of infertility, which implicates that reproductive systems are less efficient during high levels of oxytocin, that being again during the 4th turning. (S) (Chapter 5.1 addresses issues related to fertility.)

3.2.4 Oxytocin and divorce rates

Divorce rates are presumed to be connected to oxytocin levels, as studies show that lower oxytocin levels correlate with higher divorce rates. (S) Lower oxytocin levels lead to higher rates of break-ups in non-married couples as well. (S) Therefore it is not a surprise to see the start of the 1970s to witness a large increase in divorce rates in many Western countries as the statistics below illustrate, because that is also approximately the low point in the oxytocin levels as indicated by the breastfeeding initiation charts. Statistic from the U.S. suggest that average oxytocin levels for married couples were at their lowest point at around the 1970s and then went higher again during the 1980s.

Divorce rates                  in Anglo-American nations

Legislative restrictions held back the divorce rates in countries like Australia (S) and New Zealand (S), which is why there were very clear spikes in divorce rates once those legislative bottlenecks were removed. This is a good example how a demand for something through low/high hormone levels can create demands for new legislation.

In addition to the divorce rates increasing, the percentages for marital quality dropped at the same time: “…marital quality fell during the ’70s and early ’80s. In the early 1970s, 70% of married men and 67% of married women reported being very happy in their marriages; by the early ’80s, these figures had fallen to 63% for men and 62% for women.” (S) The Strauss-Howe generational theory states that a 2nd generation is born and receiving underprotective nurture during these years. It should be noted that there was also an increase in marriage rates in the 1960s and 70s, but the divorce rates increased relatively more. (S)

Divorce statistics should be further divided into different age groups to find possible differences in the generational oxytocin levels. The graph below from the U.S. shows that divorce rates have gone down for younger generations and higher for older generations (S), and it supports the assumption that oxytocin levels are higher for Millennials and Gen Z. In the 1970s divorce rates rose for all generations, but divorce rates rates stabilized once the years those couples had children on average passed the year 1975. For example, a couple aged approx. 40 years in 1990s were born in 50s, had children in the 70s, and then high rates of divorce in 90s. But a couple aged 35 years in 2000s were born in the 60s, had children in the 80s, and then about the same divorce rates than a decade before.

Divorce rates bys age group

It is therefore important to note that the older generations, whose children were born before the 70s, slowly if ever recovered from the divorce rate boom. But the younger generations did “recover”, not continuing the trend set by the older generations. The chart implies that higher breastfeeding rates (higher oxytocin levels) correlate with lower divorce numbers, but the effect is weaker for generations that are older when oxytocin levels rise for new children. According to the most recent studies, the total divorce numbers are still going down due to the low divorce rates among the youngest generations (S) and their marriages are steadier compared to the older generations (S) which is also an indicator of them having higher oxytocin levels, since high oxytocin levels promote monogamy (S) and other attributes that contribute to maintaining a stable marriage. (S)

It should be noted that divorces have been found to spread through social circles (S), and since social circles largely consist of people in the same generation, this is a good example of how generations gain unique social traits through generationally varying oxytocin levels and how social interaction – through communication in one form or another – enhances those traits.

3.2.5 Oxytocin and alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption statistics should reveal changes in historically varying oxytocin levels because alcohol and oxytocin have similar effects (S), and oxytocin has been shown to inhibit the effects and lessen the cravings for alcohol. (S)(S) If these studies are accurate, then low oxytocin levels could lead to higher alcohol consumption and higher oxytocin levels could lead to lower alcohol consumption in the population. The Fourth Turning book states the following about per capita alcohol consumption rates following the 80 year generational cycle: “They begin rising late in a 1st turning, peak near the end of the 2nd turning, and then begin a decline during the 3rd turning amid growing public disapproval.” The graph below shows that the 3rd turnings in recent centuries (1830-1850 and 1910-1930) indeed saw large sudden decreases in per capita alcohol consumption.

Historical                  consumtion of alcohol per capita in the U.S.
Per capita alcohol consumption in the US form 1710 to 1970. (S)

Just like with the changes to divorce legislation, the prohibition laws in many Western nations in the 1910s and 20s display how higher or lower hormone levels have effects on legislation. (S) Two more statistics are available from the 19th and 20th century, and both show similar behavior in alcohol consumption: low points of alcohol consumption are in the 1840s and 1920s when compared to the previous decades in the UK (S)(S) and the Netherlands (S).

There was once again a similar drop in the alcohol consumption 80 years after the low point of 1920s, as roughly the year 2000 was a low point in the U.S. alcohol consumption, preceded by a high point in the 1980s. (S) Most Western nations show this same pattern of year 2000s having lower alcohol consumption rates compared to the 1980s. (S) Especially adolescence alcohol consumption has greatly gone down for the last two decades in the Western nations (S)(S)(S), while Boomers’ consumption has gone up in several nations. (S)(S) These statistics are directly in sync with the previously made presumption that the younger generations (Millennials, Gen Z) have higher oxytocin levels than the older generations (Boomers, Gen X). But the trend for adolescents should be turning around 2020-2025 according to this theory, and first signs of this are already showing for instance in Sweden. (S)

All the alcohol statistics presented point to the fact that the Strauss & Howe were correct in their observations and that the overall alcohol consumption drops sharply once the 3rd generation is born with their parents presumably having higher oxytocin levels. (S) It should also be pointed out that the sudden drops in alcohol consumption rates takes about 10 years, just like the breastfeeding rates go up in about 10 years, and some breastfeeding statistics show quick movement upwards towards the late 1990s like in Norway and the US. (Dopamine levels/receptors should be also taken into account when looking at alcohol consumption rates, and this will be addressed once the dopamine system is implemented to this theory.)

3.2.6 A model of generational oxytocin levels

Below are the presumed levels of oxytocin on a societal level compiled to a graph. All data points are not available from all centuries listed, but at this point, are assumed to be similar.

Presumed generational oxytocin levels
Levels at birth can be calculated by going back roughly 30 years from the years listed below. The percentages are only rough assumptions based on the vole study mentioned in chapter 1.2.

3.2.7 Oxytocin and political ideology

The left vs. right ideological setting is still the fundamental political divider in Western nations. Most of the central arguments on important issues like tax rates, welfare, gun rights, etc. can be drawn from the basic attitude towards the society: on average, individual rights and responsibilities (aka. self reliance) are more important for the right-wing voter, and shared rights and responsibilities (aka. the common good) are more important for the left-wing voter.

Therefore it could be presumed that higher levels of social hormone effects manifest as more left-leaning ideological behavior, since higher levels of social hormones leads to increased prosocial behavior. Lower levels of social hormones lead to less social behavior and more self reliance, thus the presumed inclination to lean right.

Studies have previously found an association between maltreated children and increased right-wing authoritarianism. (S) Adverse social and socioeconomic environments in childhood cause DNA methylation to the oxytocin receptor gene in a similar manner compared to low intensity nurture. (S) Therefore oxytocin receptor DNA methylation rates due to parenting intensity should affect generational voting behavior, since this methylation leads to decreased social behavior in the child through a less functional oxytocin receptor expression/functionality, like is illustrated in the schematic below. (S)(S)

Low parental care leads to decreased social behavior in the child. OXTR = oxytocin receptor. (S)

Below is the generational nurture cycle (presented in chapter 3.2.1) illustrating the how much each generation receives nurture and also the intensity of nurture.

‘Turnings’ and ‘generations’ (red text) have been added for clarity. Social ‘eras’ are explained in detail in Strauss & Howe’s books Generations (1991) and The Fourth Turning (1997).

Since underprotective and low intensity nurture causes high methylation to the oxytocin receptor DNA (2nd generation), and overprotective nurture causes low methylation to the oxytocin receptor DNA (4th generation), the curve presenting the amount of methylation is inversed.

High levels of DNA methylation to the oxytocin receptor genes leads to less sociability, and this is what the 2nd generations are known for throughout their lifespan.

If the oxytocin receptor DNA is methylated, it leads to less socially balanced behavioral traits, which is what the 2nd generations are basically known for according to the Strauss-Howe generational theory: they’re badly behaving as children (S), coming of age is an alienating process where self-sufficiency is important (S), their leadership style is solitary when they’re older, and they’re socially abandoned as elders when compared to the other generations.

The combined statistics of US breastfeeding rates and birth cohort voting behavior below illustrate how the birth cohorts from 1928 to 1974 are predominantly right-leaning cohorts, and but before and after that the average cohort voting behavior is predominantly left-leaning. The largest rift is close to the year 1975, when the parent’s birth cohort oxytocin levels are presumably increasing at a fast pace. This divides the Generation X into two halves regarding voting behavior.

The red boxes correlate with each other in regard to birth cohorts. (S) Blue and red colored areas indicate predominantly leaning sections. The U.S. breastfeeding stat used here is compiled out of three different sources (S)(S)(S) and should provide enough accuracy for demonstration purposes, but the dip of 1946-1950 may be due to different statistics having different measurement techniques, meaning that the line should be more direct from 1940s to 1960s (S) similar to the other surveyed nations, which is indicated by the black dotted line from 1945 to 1965.

There seems to be a correlation with the presumed oxytocin levels of the parents, resulting in low/high nurture intensity, and ideological tendencies of their children. To be more precise: birth cohorts receiving low intensity nurture lean right, and birth cohorts receiving high intensity nurture lean left.

In addition to birth cohorts displaying ideological preferences, a well known dividing factor regarding the political spectrum is the “urban vs. rural” divide, where rural voters lean right and urban voters lean left. (S)(S) This implicates that breastfeeding rates are therefore lower in rural areas, which is confirmed by studies. (S)(S) (Since population density is lower in rural areas, this leads to speculate if individuals with less efficient oxytocin systems prefer a rural environment due to them being less socially active compared to individuals with highly functional oxytocin systems, who are living in urban environments.)

But can the oxytocin receptor system actually modulate ideological preferences? The following study implicates that this is entirely possible.

“The phylogenetically ancient neuropeptide oxytocin has been linked to a plethora of social behaviors. Here, we argue that the action of oxytocin is not restricted to the downstream level of emotional responses, but substantially alters higher representations of attitudes and values by exerting a distant modulatory influence on cortical areas and their reciprocal interplay with subcortical regions and hormonal systems… Notably, a recent longitudinal epigenetic study detected a positive link between methylation of the OXT [oxytocin] receptor gene at birth and callous-unemotional traits at age 13, which corroborates the hypothesis of abnormalities in the oxytocin system as a core element of developmental pathways to callous-unemotional traits. These findings, together with the relationship between variations in common polymorphisms of the OXT receptor gene and antisocial behavior, and high callous-unemotional traits, all point to an involvement of the OXT system in upstream attitudinal representations… OXT also influences, and interacts with, representations of attitudes and values in more recently developed cortical regions…” (S)

What is important to note is that the study’s result “…corroborates the hypothesis of abnormalities in the oxytocin system as a core element of developmental pathways to callous-unemotional traits”, which are detectable by a persistent pattern of behavior that reflects a disregard for others and also a lack of empathy and generally deficient affect. (S) These characterizations best fit the 1st and 2nd generations according to the Strauss-Howe generational theory.

According to a recent study, voting is much less rational and more based on emotions than what has been previously thought to be the case.

“But how should we treat questions of control, free will, and responsibility, given the growing body of findings about the dubious value of conscious control? An interesting possibility is that humans possess some automatic control processes for socially relevant thinking and behavior, just as we have automatic control processes for autonomic regulation. Violent behavior, for example, is likely inhibited (for most people) through automatic control mechanisms that do not require one to stop and think about consequences. Emotions may play key roles in such automatic regulation of behavior. Moreover, the very associative memory processes that sometimes promote bias can work to prevent bias. Changes in attitudes and associations can be learned through classical or instrumental conditioning, just as prejudices and bad habits can be unlearned. Attitudes toward same-sex marriage, for example, have undergone rapid change over the past several decades, and it seems clear this cannot be fully explained through generational replacement. New beliefs and feelings have been widely adopted, and we believe it is unlikely this was the result of careful reconsideration of priors. It is much more likely, we think, that these new attitudes and considerations have formed unconsciously through direct and indirect experience and an increasingly consistent societal message of support for marriage equality. The most interesting and important questions about human behavior concern cause, responsibility, and control, but we do not yet have a satisfactory understanding of the basic underlying mechanisms that give meaning to these questions. Our research exploring automaticity in political-information processing and our dual-process theory that roots feeling, thinking, and doing in the associative architecture of memory is a valuable early step toward a process-valid model of political behavior… As it stands, JQP [John Q. Public Model of Political Information Processing] paints a very pessimistic view of human possibilities. We fear this portrait of “the cognitive monster” may be accurate, but we think control processes deserve more study. Our gut tells us this last optimism may be rationalization.” (S)

It should be noted that on the individual level voting behavior is affected by a myriad of different factors including who is leading in the polls (S), what images are seen shortly before the voting, etc. (S) And like in all decision making, cognitive biases come into play. (S) Things like the ideological affiliations of college friends can also have an effect on voting behavior, but the effect is quite small, possibly due to the brain being already quite mature in young adulthood. (S) But even as these mentioned factors do play a role in voting behavior, they’re not that significant when looking at population-wide statistics over a period of several decades.

On a more general level it should be stated that the modulating power of hormones on human behavior is strong. (S) If humans were able to resist their urges that are due to hormonal activity, there would be no obesity epidemic, addictions like smoking and drugs would be easy to quit, people could override their emotions when making decisions, women wouldn’t experience changes to their mood during different stages of their menstrual cycles, and teenagers would exhibit normal behavior when compared to their younger and older counterparts. (S)

3.3 Historical vasopressin levels

3.3.1 Vasopressin, dopamine, and group coherence

Unlike oxytocin levels, vasopressin levels are probably not detectable from historical proxy statistics like breastfeeding rates. This chapter presents that varying vasopressin levels between generations affect the strength of territoriality and group coherence. (NOTE: since dopamine is essential to large network group coherence (S), the vasopressin levels presented later in this chapter are presumed to also represent the generational dopamine levels. Dopamine will be included in full to this chapter hopefully before the end of Feb 2020. Oxytocin is more important in the context of family, friends, and other one-on-one social connections.)

Aspirations towards increasing group coherence and nationalism have risen in many Western nations during the past 4th turnings: 1770-1790, 1850-1870 and 1930-1950 have all seen it, and in 2010-2030 the same thing is quite apparently happening again. During the years 1690-1710, also a 4th turning, there was a movement towards increased centralized power of kings and the Pope, even though the concept of a nation wasn’t yet largely adopted in Europe. Even the years 1610-1630 were “nationalistic” and had populistic tendencies (chapter 4.3 has more on this).

This is why it should be noted that terms like nationalism and globalism or cosmopolitanism are only social constructions that are always tied to their historical context; they can change in time to include different aspects of societal views and tendencies. Depending on the point in history, nationalism vs. globalism could be replaced with terms of tribalism vs. cosmopolitanism or some other way to convey the idea of a society being more open or closed to outside groups. The terms can be chosen depending on the historical context.

The effects of vasopressin and dopamine on ideology cannot be bound too much to any terms of language, because if the roots of ideological tendencies are situated in biology, they manifest in different ways depending on the social structure of the selected point in history, be it a feudal kingdom in 12th century England, a Germanic tribe in 15th century, or a nation belonging to the EU in 2020. But the terms nationalism and globalism will be used to in order to illustrate some general differences between different eras and generations, as they may be the most accurate terms overall to describe the ideological alternates of the past five centuries.

To further elaborate the effects of the social hormones on a societal level, (especially that of vasopressin, since it works on larger groups than oxytocin, that is primarily connected to family and friends), the graph below illustrates the effect to group coherence in a society when the levels of social hormones are either low or high. The circles represent figurative outer limits of social, ideological and cultural norms. The out-groups left outside have historically often been immigrants, Jews, and other cultural and ideological minorities, suspect of ending up as scapegoats for many societal problems when demands for tighter social coherence increase.

Social circles and social coherence
The spots can represent either individuals or groups (depending on the scale).

Strauss & Howe write about tightening social (group) cohesion being a part of a 4th turning and that keeping good social relations within one’s existing social circles is important, because those individuals who are shunned outside social circles will end up without much social support as the social coherence tightens. (More on group coherence and scapegoating in chapter 4.) Quick examples of increasing group coherence in civic life during the current 4th turning are the PC culture and MeToo -movements. These movements have been about enforcing tightening unwritten in-group rules, but the new tighter rules have also been enforced through the justice system, which represents the written rules. Together these written and unwritten rules form an in-group’s behavioral and ideological boundaries, and these boundaries are tighter in a 4th turning due to increased group coherence.

The PC culture became mainstream during the 2000s and has become stronger ever since, evolving into an outrage culture (aka. cancel culture). It began as an movement to tighten in-group rules to be more inclusive of out-groups, but ever since the ideological spectrum widened during the 2010s, it became a movement primarily in the left-wing ideological in-group. The MeToo-movement was founded in 2006, became mainstream in 2017, and spawned a multitude of other call-out movements aimed at reducing many old behavioral traits that were deemed bad towards others in an in-group, but were more tolerated during the 2nd and 3rd turnings. The call-out culture has been spreading through the Western nations quickly, and those who have not complied with the new social rules have been shunned out of social groups, just like Strauss & Howe predicted three decades ago.

Higher vasopressin levels are presumably associated with nationalism and territoriality. (S)(S) Territoriality is essentially in-group defense against out-groups. (Territoriality’s link to vasopressin levels is explained in chapter 4.) The two graphs below represent a simplified expression of higher and lower vasopressin level effects in history of the Western cultures, especially in the U.S., and how it affects group coherence. The idea is not to suggest that hormone levels have caused any of these historical events, but if average vasopressin levels have been higher at certain eras, this could have facilitated some events due to lower/higher levels of group coherence.

Theoretical
The blue line represents presumed high/low vasopressin effects.
Theoretical
The blue line represents presumed high/low vasopressin effects.

The 3rd and 4th generations presumably tend to vote more left on the ideological spectrum (presented in chapter 3.2.7), which translates to political life 60-80 years later after these generations are born, since then these generations are generally holding the places of highest political and civic power. In a democracy this effect is often compounded by the fact that the older generations are usually the most active voters. (S)(S) The theoretical hormone cycle is therefore generating seasons/eras of conservatism/nationalism and liberalism/globalism.

1st and 2nd turnings are presumably eras of increasing liberalism and globalism, 3rd and 4th turnings are eras of increasing nationalism and conservatism. (S) The high points for nationalism and conservatism are during 4th and 1st turnings; high points for liberalism and globalism are during 2nd and 3rd turnings. This dynamic drives the politics from liberalism to conservatism and back to liberalism in a wave pattern, although the effects are highly case dependent regarding each Western nation, since a nation may opt to go ideologically left when group coherence tightens, or split up into two camps of left and right.

After a 4th turning has ended, there is a movement towards globalism during the 1st and 2nd turnings, while globalism is strongest during the 2nd and 3rd turnings. Just like there is a movement towards nationalism during the 3rd and 4th turnings, while nationalism is strongest during the 4th and 1st turnings. (On a sidenote, the graph above illustrates why Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay “The End of History” was incorrect in its predictions about liberal democracy being the inevitable future form for almost all nations. The essay was written while liberalism and globalism were still on the rise. (S))

Higher levels of social hormones are also linked to higher amounts of support for populistic movements, which is why populism thrives especially in a 4th turning when there is a tendency towards right-wing ideology, but also to a lesser degree during a 2nd turning when a more left-wing ideology is trying to become mainstream. Strongest seasons for populist globalism/liberalism are during a 2nd turning, and at the other end 4th turnings are strongest seasons for populist nationalism. But there are some exceptions to this rule like the Jacksonian populism that peaked in the 1830s, but the movement was only local compared to the current worldwide increases in populist nationalism.

A descriptive quote for the graph above is: “As we have already seen, the year 1848 saw the European continent distracted by insurrectionary outbreaks that touched every one of the major powers. Liberalism and democracy contributed greatly to the undercurrents of discontent under the apparent calm of the previous decade, but it was nationalist aspirations that furnished most of the fuel for the revolutionary fires of that fateful year. In England and France, where the struggle for unification had long before been won, nationalism played no part. It was in Germany, Italy, and the Austrian Empire that nationalist agitators filled the larger roles in the several revolutions of 1848.” – Europe Surrenders to Nationalism 1848-1871. (S) The quote states that liberalism faded and nationalism rose during the years 1848-1871, which is almost precisely the estimated 4th turning of the 19th century.

Continuing on the second graph, during the 18th century 4th turning there was the American Revolutionary War, which spawned from nationalistic aspirations to free the colonies from their foreign ownerships. There was not much democracy during the 18th century, only nationalism, which contributed to the American Revolutionary War: “Richard Merritt, a Yale political scientist, employed quantitative techniques to determine that 1770 was the year when key colonial newspapers cited “America” more frequently than “British colonies” in their columns.” (S) At the end of the same 4th turning happened the most influential revolution in human history, the French Revolution, and it started a wave of monarchies turning into republics and also liberal democracies.

There are statistical indicators from the 20th century to support the presumption that liberalism is stronger during the 2nd turning and that right wing populism thrives during the 4th turnings. This seems to be the case in Europe, as populism had its lowest points during the 1980s and 90s. Right-wing populism made its comeback in the 90s and picked up more speed during the 00s. The graph below illustrates that the strength and type of left/right populism is quite similar compared to the theoretical graphs above.

Populistic                                                            party support                                                          in Europe

The graph above also shows that support for populist parties in Europe was at 10-12% for 20 years, from 1980 to 2000, which is the low point of nationalistic populism in the group coherence charts of this chapter. When observing the multi-party systems in Europe and the growth of populism and polarization between ideological camps, with the parties on the political right getting a bigger boost, it would mean that center-left parties lose the most support among voters, and this seems to be the current trend in the European political landscape. (S)

Going back to the U.S., apart from the elections there is one good source for the left vs. right division that indicates rifts in ideological tendencies between generations: the U.S. Supreme Court constantly takes sides in controversial topics that affect the nation as a whole, and as such in its decisions reflects the social mood on various matters such as the separation of church and state, abortion, and governmental overreaches. But as history shows, the Supreme Court is not an isolationist entity. Not unless it wants its powers to be restricted by the Congress:

“The notion that the [Supreme] Court is constrained by external political factors is an old one. An 1892 article stated that “whenever there is any departure by the Court from the popular opinion it will meet with successful opposition”. Legal realist Roscoe Pound wrote in 1907 that judges decide cases “in the long run so as to accord with the moral sense of the community”, and his realist contemporary Karl Llewellyn argued in 1930 that if judges do not “reshape the law to conform to current social commands it will be accomplished through legislation”. In this perspective, fear motivates justices to pay attention to external actors. When the Court interprets statutes, justices fear that Congress and the president will simply change the relevant statute if they oppose the Court decision. When the Court makes constitutional decisions, justices fear disobedience, constitutional amendments, changes to Court jurisdiction, Court budget changes, changes to the size of the Court, and impeachment of individual justices. In anticipation of such political responses, justices strategically hedge their position so as to avoid being overturned or otherwise rebuked, yielding better outcomes for the justices than if they had not done so. Separation-of-powers models reaction by the elected branches otherwise.” (S)

The statistic below shows that the most liberal point is close to the year 1970, and a clear leftist direction of ideology lasts until the late 1990s, ending close to the same times as when the left-wing populist parties in Europe lose their dominance over the right-wing populist parties.

Supreme Court                                                      ideology by year
US Supreme Court ideological emphasis by year. (S)

3.3.2 A model of generational vasopressin levels

Below are the presumed levels of vasopressin on a societal level compiled to a graph, presumably modulating the level of group coherence. ‘Group coherence’ largely reflects the political/ideological uprisings/revolutions, which are often occurring during or close to the 4th turnings, and this is due to vasopressin. Nationalism

Presumed generational vasopressin levels
The percentages are only rough assumptions based on the vole study mentioned in chapter 1.2. Chapters 3.4 and 4 explain the societal implications of low/high group coherence in more detail.

3.4 A model of generational oxytocin and vasopressin levels

This chapter contains the proposed model of generational cyclical oxytocin and vasopressin hormone levels. The graphs are based on previously presented breastfeeding, maternal age, divorce rate, and alcohol consumption statistics for oxytocin, and historical observations of increasing and decreasing nationalism (or other manifestations of high societal in-group cohesion) for vasopressin, that is the more aggressive variant of the two social hormones. (S)

At the moment, the exact pathway to the brain that oxytocin and vasopressin utilize in behavior modulation still is unknown. But since the breastfeeding statistics appear to share a similar historical curve with paternal age and parenting intensity, it is likely that the size and efficiency are shared between the hypothalamic neurons secreting oxytocin and vasopressin to both the brain and the blood circulation. Below are all the proxy statistics combined as has been presented in the previous chapters, now forming a generational hormone cycle.

Generational hormone cycle
Presumed generational hormone levels of parents. The percentages are only rough assumptions based on the vole study mentioned in chapter 1.2.

The generational hormone levels presented in the graph above are presumed to spread among populations through new mothers and/or new babies, as there is already evidence of rising oxytocin levels in individuals visiting new mothers and babies. (S) This explains why the presumed vasopressin levels are also attributed to age group of new mothers. In addition, research done on couples demonstrates hormonal synchronization to be an occurring phenomenon (S), and smelling sweat has been shown to alter hormone levels (S), meaning that sweat works as a chemosignal similarly to pheromones found in other animals like moths and mice. This assumption is enhanced by the fact that nasal administration of oxytocin and vasopressin does increase their behavioral effects, but as oxytocin and vasopressin are likely released into brain areas straight from the hypothalamic neurons (S), it could mean that the hypothalamus is stimulated to secrete oxytocin and vasopressin by the main olfactory cortex (S) once it detects the hormones in the air via the olfactory bulb. There is no evidence that oxytocin or vasopressin could pass the blood-brain barrier, which makes the olfactory system a potential candidate how the externally controlled release of oxytocin and vasopressin modulate behavior in studies, and presumably also inside family units and other social groups.

Because young children spend most of their time with their parents and children close to their own birth cohorts, the effects are amplified, largely solidifying their hormonal levels and thus behavioral traits during childhood. In young adulthood they will presumably pick up the new hormone levels by the new generation, but the effect is less the starting levels received at birth and childhood. In addition, hypothalamic structural plasticity has been observed for example during the menstrual cycle and periods of lactation, displaying that the structures inside the hypothalamus are able to change in size and efficiency. (S)(S) This is the current explanation why generations have their own hormone profiles, but how a generation in the reproductive age still has an effect on the older generations.

Since nasally injected oxytocin and vasopressin increase the behavioral traits of these hormones, it would be logical to assume that the mechanism is the same with human interactions: oxytocin in the air reaches the nose and triggers neural oxytocin release into the brain. It would also explain the occurrence of cross-species adoption, nurture and even lactation without the adopting “parent” ever being pregnant (S)(S), and this is theoretically entirely possible since oxytocin serves the same functions for different mammal species. (Lactation also requires for example estrogen-mediated prolactin secretion, so the suggested airborne oxytocin transportation would obviously be only a one part of the suggested mechanism. (S))

Another explanation for the generational hormone levels would be an oscillating developmental cycle, where the year of birth during the cycle determines the starting hormone levels through the varying hypothalamic neural size and efficiency. But for the moment, the exact mechanism is still unknown. This is admittedly a weak point in the theory at the moment, and more research should be done in this area.

As young individuals spend most of their time with children inside their own birth cohorts, like at school and other activities, the generational traits described in chapter 3.1 are amplified through social synchrony. These generational hormone levels are assumed to be caused by the same mechanism as with voles and lemmings: the neurons in hypothalamus secreting oxytocin and vasopressin are changing in size and efficiency according to what stage of the cycle an individual is born at. There have been studies on human hypothalamus neurons that secrete oxytocin, and those studies show that age has an impact on the neuron size and efficiency. (S) What these studies unfortunately do not show is the specific birth cohort/generation information, and this data would be required to assess if the generational size of neurons coincide with the theoretical generational hormone cycle. But what the linked study does show is major differences in those areas of the hypothalamus that both produce and secrete oxytocin and vasopressin. For example, the older women in this study have over 60% larger volume in vasopressin secreting neurons than the younger women.

As an example, a 3rd generation show traits of high oxytocin levels, like higher amounts of prosocial cooperation (S) compared to a 2nd generation, which is “abandoned” in old age according to the Strauss-Howe generational theory. This is happening likely due to them not creating and fostering as many friendships and other strong social bonds during their lifespan compared to a 3rd gen. The Strauss-Howe generational theory states that the 2nd generation is the least social and the 3rd generation is the most social generation. These phenomena are explained through generational oxytocin levels, because oxytocin promotes pro-sociality.

It has been widely speculated why so many couples stayed together during the 1930s Great Depression, and one popular idea is that couples couldn’t afford to move apart. But the answer could be this simple: oxytocin levels were high at that time, and because oxytocin is needed to bind couples, families and other groups stayed together, and there are several studies supporting this statement. The 1970s oil/economic crisis seemed to cause a lot of divorces, but as the oxytocin levels were at a low point at that time in history, the stress inducing economic difficulties were efficient in breaking up marriages. And during the 2007/2008 Great Recession the oxytocin levels were high once again, thus the divorce rates did not spike due to economic distress.

The changing social mood in the Strauss-Howe generational theory is basically explained by the changing societal hormonal levels because hormone levels alter an individuals mood. For example, during the 20th century transition from 1st to 2nd turning, when the vasopressin levels dropped, war protests broke out all over the Western nations in the 1970s, and this attitude change could also be observed in how war veterans were treated in the Western nations, suddenly having societal shame cast on them by the general public. The situation has changed during the 21st century once the average vasopressin levels have presumably once again started to rise higher. This example demonstrates how the social mood changes to be more supporting of peace due to generally lower vasopressin levels and vice versa. Therefore the changing social mood in the Strauss-Howe generational theory can be basically explained by varying social hormone levels in a society, since hormone levels affect mood.

The average generational hormone levels can be assessed by going backwards about 30 years from the proxy statistics presented previously.

Hormone levels at birth
Presumed oxytocin and vasopressin levels at birth. The percentages are only rough assumptions based on the vole study mentioned in chapter 1.2.

On average:

1st generation has low oxytocin and vasopressin levels;
2nd generation has high oxytocin but low vasopressin levels;
3rd generation has high oxytocin and vasopressin levels;
4th generation has low oxytocin but high vasopressin levels.

The cyclical pattern of the social hormones resembles the vole hormonal pattern presented below (and in chapter 1.2 during) different phases of their generational population cycle. (S) When comparing the proposed human generational hormone cycle to an animal cycle, a similar curve can be drawn to the SON portions of the vole cycle. It should be stated again that percentage levels in the human cycle were assumptions based on the vole study, which is why the curves look similar. The intention is not to present potentially misleading information, but only to point out that there is resemblance in the highs and lows between the vole cycle and the generational hormone cycle of human population, as even by adding both the hormone values of PVN and SON together would result in a similar graph regarding the high and low points.

Vole generational hormone cycle, SON
Oxytocin and vasopressin levels during the vole population cycle. (S)

4 Group division and conflict

4.1 Human and chimpanzee group division

This (unfinished) chapter focuses on the mechanism of growing in-group cleavage leading up to a division into two camps. Other in-group and out-group social dynamics are also reviewed. The presumption of increasing oxytocin and vasopressin levels leading to “negative emotions toward in-group non-cooperators” (reviewed in chapter 2) is tested. Both humans and chimpanzees are taken a look at, since chimpanzees along with bonobos are the closest relatives of humans, and because a group split of a chimpanzee community happened in 1972 in Gombe. (S)(S) The split in the chimp community led to a four-year war between the newly formed chimp groups, a civil war of sorts. Comparing chimp group behavior to human group behavior should offer insight into how they may show similar patterns related to increased social hormone levels, including tightening in-groups and increased territorial behavior.

The slowly growing division in the Gombe chimp social network map from 1970 to 1972 (graphic on the left) resembles the increasing left vs. right political cleavages in the US from 1994 to 2014 (bottom right), which have progressed in a similar fashion in several Western nations, and Twitter graphs (top right) help to illustrate how these are comparable to the chimpanzee division in Gombe: two groups are slowly drifting apart.

Social                                                            networks                                                          divide
Visualizations of increasing group cleavages in chimpanzee and human groups. (S)(S)(S)

The statistic below illustrates grooming intensity to chimps taking sides in Gombe. Oxytocin levels increase with grooming in primates (S), but only with an existing (S) social bond partner. The same effect has been observed with humans: “Holt-Lunstad et al. found that couples engaged in a program of affiliative touch over a 4-week period resulted in higher post-treatment salivary oxytocin levels than couples in the non-intervention group…” In addition, “Across mammals, infants require physical affiliative contact, whereas in adults proximity may be sufficient [to increase oxytocin levels]…”. (S)

There were two chimps competing for the alpha male status when the in-group split started to materialize during 1970, and this occurred during the time of increasing grooming and presumably increasing oxytocin levels. This in not to imply that the presumed rising oxytocin levels caused the division, but instead that they facilitated it through increasing polarization of the two camps supporting different alpha males.

The heavy grooming stage marks the final division (statistic below) in the chimpanzee community that took place during 1971-1972, as can be seen in the chimp social network graph above left and the grooming intensity graph below: grooming leads to increasing oxytocin levels -> sides are being chosen (‘follows’ increase) -> division into two groups (‘arrivals’ and ‘follows’ finish the division) -> leads to a conflict between the two new groups in the end (vasopressin is also likely involved here).

Chimpanzee                                                            grooming and                                                          division
Grooming intensity by year. (S)

The presumption is that the path is similar with humans: it is the rise of oxytocin and especially vasopressin levels and increased levels of empathy (S) towards in-group members that increases the wedge towards non in-group members. This seems be occurring today among Western nations as the ideological cleavages and polarizations deepen between large scale social networks, all the way up to the size of nations.

Even if a nation is very unified so that divisions aren’t a possibility, there still appears to be some growing divide among its citizens during a 4th turning, which manifests as the rise of xenophobia (or even fear/scapegoating/defaming individuals or groups of individuals as witches, as is explained in chapter 4.2). The ones singled out could be for example an ideological and/or religious minority, but it seems like there must be an opposite side or scapegoats to blame for pressing societal problems when social hormone levels are high during a 4th turning. When nationalism rises there most often is a minority group (or groups) that the populists target, and thus the ones who belong to that minority group become scapegoats who will be blamed for many of the most pressing problems a society faces, and these can be real or made up problems: economic depression or economic inequality, crimes, disease, famine or any other problem that affects the community as a whole. History shows that it really doesn’t matter who they are, basically any minority (out-)group can be used as an scapegoat if empathy is high towards the in-group. (A thorough book on empathy and its pitfalls is ‘Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion’ by Paul Bloom, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University.)

Assumably, when social hormone levels rise in human and chimp communities, a similar pattern repeats with both species: tightening of social networks and singling out “the others”. For example, when chimp oxytocin levels rise, they start to patrol their borders more. (S) In hamsters vasopressin has been found to increase territorial aggression. (S) These increased territorial instincts could be compared to increased human territorial behavior, which is often heightened during eras of high nationalism. Similar movements can be seen in most European countries as demands to more or less shut down the borders and decrease/stop immigration are growing stronger, at least when it comes to the refugees from countries with different cultural values compared to the traditional values in the nation receiving the immigrants. These immigrants can be “legal” like in the case of Brexit or “illegal” like in the case of the U.S. border wall debate (not forgetting the recent bans on immigrants from several predominantly Muslim countries).

In addition, if the chimp alpha male doesn’t show enough empathy towards the in-group members, they can be removed from their position. (S) This may be the reason for the growing distrust towards the so called “liberal elites”, who on average support more open borders and higher levels of immigration than the populist nationalists, thus they may be seen as lacking in empathy towards the perceived in-group during a 4th turning.

So what exactly could happen in humans when social hormone levels rise and is the pattern same as with chimps, can demands for group conformity divide a previous relatively coherent in-group into two or more groups? The holocaust is an obvious example of growing in-group hatred/division towards (perceived) non-cooperators, and the persecution of Jews begun about six years prior to any offensive aggression towards neighboring nations. Jews were blamed for the economic woes as well as many other problems.

The following study explains how increasing oxytocin levels leads to declining morality in these situations: “Justifications may promote unethical behavior because they constitute a convenient loophole through which people can gain from immoral behavior and preserve a positive self-image at the same time. A justification that is widely used is rooted in conformity: Unethical choices become more permissible because one’s peers are expected to make the same unethical choices. In the current study, we tested whether an exogenous alteration of conformity led to a lower inclination to adhere to a widely accepted norm (i.e., honesty) under the pressure of competition. We took advantage of the well-known effects of intranasally applied oxytocin on affiliation, in-group conformity, and in-group favoritism in humans. We found that conformity was enhanced by oxytocin, and this enhancement had a detrimental effect on honesty in a competitive environment but not in a noncompetitive environment. Our findings contribute to recent evidence showing that competition may lead to unethical behavior and erode moral values.” (S)

Blaming Jews for hoarding the capital during an economic downturn could therefore have led to declining morality and unethical choices by introducing a “competitive environment” and through higher levels of empathy towards the own in-group. Oxytocin regulates feelings of empathy and empathy is the source of aggression according to this study: “This study negates previous beliefs that characteristics like impulsiveness, trait aggression, trait or state anger trigger aggression, and shows that, not the personality, but empathic feelings trigger aggression.” (S)(S) Lower requirements towards honesty from other in-group members (mentioned in the first quote) could have made individuals accept weak arguments to explain the unethical actions taken towards the Jews while maintaining a feeling of personal integrity.

This effect of oxytocin inducing dishonesty to serve one’s in-group in a competitive environment would also explain the current post-truth era in politics (S) and science (S) that begun around 2015. Since ideologies have departed so far from the center out, this could be interpreted as an competitive environment that can induce “detrimental effect on honesty” into anything that is related to political ideologies, including many scientific areas like climate change (S), abortion (S), and vaccine resistance (S) (that has actually been linked to the support for populist parties (S)). Because humans are hardwired to dismiss facts that don’t fit their worldview, the increasing cleavages on issues like climate change is only made worse by better knowledge regarding the issue, since a larger knowledge base can enhance one’s ideologically motivated reasoning. (S)

4.2 Paths of tightening group coherence

This (unfinished) chapter puts the proposed generational hormone theory to test by looking at an earlier peaks of nationalism, as the early 17th century contains clear signs of populism and rising feelings of early nationalism. 4th turnings are estimated to have happened roughly every 80 years: 1530-1550 | 1610-1630 | 1690-1710 | 1770-1790 | 1850-70 | 1930-1950 and currently 2010-2030.

The graphs in this chapter coarsely illustrate how tightening group coherence during a 4th turning leads to different end results depending on the starting point that exists at the ending of a 3rd turning. This is in line with the Strauss-Howe generational theory: a society’s direction in a 4th turning is largely dependent on the situation it is in when a 4th turning begins, and that the beginning is marked by a catalytic event that starts the process towards a new order in the civic life as well.

3rd turning to 4th turning paths

Path 1 is the most common path and was explained earlier (chapter 3.3.1). Path 2 presents a situation where the ideological divides/cleavages are already strong when entering a 4th turning, thus there is a risk of the divisions eventually splitting the main group into two (or possibly more) separate in-groups. The division into separate in-groups may eventually escalate into a conflict, but this would depend entirely on the contentious societal issues at hand. In this situation virtually everyone is situated on one side or another, thus scapegoating is rare because both sides try to garner as much supporters as possible, and the opposing group is blamed/scapegoated for at least the most pressing societal issues/problems.

But an external threat may also accomplish an unification during a 4th turning even if it is difficult otherwise, just like the rise of the Nazi Germany mostly suppressed the populist movements (but not nationalism) in many of the war waging countries during WW2, because the war efforts required cooperation basically at every level of a society. So path 2 can change into path 1 if the external threat is strong enough to unify the society.

Path 3 presented below is typical for dictatorships, kingdoms, and monarchies that have accumulated most if not all of the power to a small elite at the top.

Social coherence power center

Below are examples of the paths taken regarding the US during the past three 4th turnings.

1) The American Revolutionary War was preceded by path 3. The British were the out-group (although one third of the American colonists fought on the side of England).
2) The American Civil War was preceded by path 2. There were two distinct in-groups, the North and the South, and there were virtually no scapegoats apart from the other side.
3) WW2 was preceded by path 1, while communists and fascists were the out-groups/scapegoats, and this way of thinking continued after the war.

In 2020 it would seem that the current 4th turning paths in the US and the UK are closest to path 2, which is not surprising due to the two-party systems, but the political polarizations in the 2010s have been much stronger compared to the 1930s and the 40s (the previous 4th turning). This obviously is not to imply that the divisions would eventually manifest as a divide, but the ideological cleavages have been getting stronger every year, especially in the US. Most of the Western nations seem to be undergoing path 1.

When group coherence tightens in a society, institutions will be used (or at least tried to be used) to advance the benefit of the in-group, often to derogate an out-group. The usual targets of this are the justice system, army leadership, state media, and the schooling system, which are increasingly subjugated under the ruling party. People leading these institution are often replaced by individuals who are willing to advance the in-group’s cause, and sometimes by any means necessary, because anyone who is perceived to advance the in-group’s agenda is often rewarded with fame and fortune. (This is also true for war heroes, movie stars, and helpers of the least fortunate inside their own in-group.)

If there are free media organizations, they are silenced if possible, and a good example of this is what has happened during the recent years in Hungary. If no group can control the media, the free media tends to polarize into two opposing camps due to consumer group behavior, but possibly also due to ownership demands. Media tycoons are often highly regarded inside their in-groups, and they can get even more influence inside their in-group by catering to their demands. This mobilization of institutions in order to further the current societal causes – what ever they might be – is what has happened during the 4th turnings in history according to Strauss & Howe.

4.3 In-group empathy and scapegoating of the out-group

When nationalism rises and the unification is successful (or the society was already unified), there most often is a minority group or groups that the nationalists target, and thus the ones who belong to that minority group become scapegoats who will be blamed for many of the most pressing problems (real or made up problems) a nation faces: economic depression or economic inequality, crimes, disease, famine or any other problem that affects the community negatively. Because scapegoating has been around for thousands of years, it is reasonable to presume that it is inherently a biological process manifesting in a group of humans looking for someone to blame. (On a sidenote, witch hunts are still happening in modern times for instance in India and Tanzania.)

History shows that it really doesn’t matter who the scapegoats are, basically any minority group can be used as a scapegoat. Since there must be someone to blame, this theory suggests that if a community is very homogeneous in culture and ethnicity, like the Western European countries very much were during the 16th and 17th centuries, there can be imaginary scapegoats of groups/individuals like witches, who were blamed for things like disease or a village losing crops.

Catholic and Protestant churches used witch-hunts to advance the spread of their ideological views: “Among both Catholics and Protestants, witch-hunting became a prime service for attracting and appeasing the masses by demonstrating their Satan-fighting prowess… When it comes to winning people to your side, after all, there’s no better method than stoking fears about an outside threat—and then assuring them that you, and you alone, offer the best protection.” This means that the church gave in to populism. In addition, it was very similar to what is happening today with the ideological battles between political parties: “Similar to how contemporary Republican and Democrat candidates focus campaign activity in political battlegrounds during elections to attract the loyalty of undecided voters, historical Catholic and Protestant officials focused witch-trial activity in confessional battlegrounds during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation to attract the loyalty of undecided Christians.” (S)

Applying the declining moral standards and tolerance for unethical decisions with rising oxytocin levels from the previous chapter, the witch hunts must have seemed more reasonable with higher oxytocin levels (high in-group empathy) than with lower oxytocin levels (low in-group empathy). The witch hunts were often justified by claiming they were done in order to protect the children, and this fits to the idea of rising oxytocin levels increasing empathy towards the weakest of an in-group. The elderly and war veterans are also similar groups which are not so much respected during 2nd and 3rd turnings, but gain back respect during 4th and 1st turnings.

After the witch hunts had peaked in Central Europe, the following Thirty Years’ War (S) wasn’t so much of a war between countries but instead between areas of groups which had adopted one of the two main ideologies; Protestants vs. Catholics. As the name implies, the Thirty Years’ War was fought between Catholic and Protestant states in Central Europe from 1618 to 1648. The conflicts eventually drew in the great powers of Europe, resulting in one of the longest, most destructive, and deadliest conflicts in European history. In addition, concurrently rising nationalism in Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, France and the Netherlands also had a role in the escalating conflict. (S) So populism and nationalism were at play, just like during less than a century before when Luther’s ideas about religion created a new in-group, Lutherans, that steered away from the power of the Pope.

“Beyond that immediate matter of dispute, however, their conflict represented the clash of two contrasting world views—those of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Erasmus was an internationalist who sought to establish a borderless Christian union; Luther was a nationalist who appealed to the patriotism of the German people… For years, they waged a battle of ideas, with each seeking to win over Europe to his side, but Erasmus’s reformist and universalist creed could not match Luther’s more emotional and nationalistic one; even some of Erasmus’s closest disciples eventually defected to Luther’s camp. Erasmus became an increasingly marginal figure, scorned by both Catholics, for being too critical of the Church, and Lutherans, for being too timid. In a turbulent and polarized age, he was the archetypal reasonable liberal… In The Complaint of Peace, he decried the nationalist enmities that were splitting the continent.” (S)

The timing presumably was on the side of Luther, because populist nationalism is high during a 4th turning. This is not to say that Luther was a populist or nationalist, but his ideas seem to have resonated among to those who did have tendencies towards populist nationalism. (Luther himself did authorize executions of witches, which may imply that he had populistic tendencies, although he did believe in witches according to his own writings.)

But can high oxytocin and especially vasopressin levels lead to intergroup violence? Empathy can drive aggression even when it makes no moral sense according to recent studies. (S) Higher oxytocin levels lead to increased empathy and lower oxytocin levels lead to reduced empathy (S)(S) Likewise, test subjects who by genetic differences have higher sensitivity to oxytocin and vasopressin show greater connection between empathy and aggression. (S page 195.) It should be noted that aggression and violence are complicated mechanisms, which to there is no one simple answer to explain them, but higher levels of vasopressin heighten the possibility of such states of mind occurring: “There is compelling evidence from several mammalian species including humans that vasopressin enhances aggression. The activity of the vasopressin appears linked to the serotonin system providing a mechanism for enhancing and suppressing aggressive behavior.” (S)

The following study deepens the understanding towards how oxytocin and vasopressin create aggression by utilizing empathy towards one’s in-group:

“Although the idea that people aggress on behalf of others is not new at all, we believe the idea that empathy can drive aggression absent provocation or injustice to be quite novel… We had specifically predicted that the effects of empathy on aggression would be accounted for by the actions of the neurohormones vasopressin and oxytocin. Our finding that variation in vasopressin and oxytocin receptor genes moderate empathy’s effects supports this prediction. More broadly, a role of these neurohormones in empathy’s effects is consistent with the possibility that empathy facilitates a broad array of behaviors—whether kind or aggressive—geared toward benefiting vulnerable others… Specifically, Study 1 showed that when participants reported feeling higher levels of empathy during a past episode when a close other was threatened and felt distressed, participants were more likely to report having aggressed on the close other’s behalf… Similarly, the combination of target distress and empathy significantly predicted increased empathy-linked aggression for individuals with the GG genotype of OXTR rs53576, but reduced aggression for those with the AG or AA genotypes. [Short review of rs53576 oxytocin receptor SNP is currently placed in a supplementary chapter.] Together, these results suggest that empathy may have predicted aggression due to its effects on vasopressin and oxytocin… In sum, the present work represents the first evidence that empathy predicts aggressive behavior on its own, even independent of provocation, and in conjunction with the empathy-linked hormones/neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin.” (S)

More on intergroup conflict and how oxytocin regulates it through defensive and cooperative mechanisms:

“Recent evolutionary models suggest that parochial altruism, the link between in-group favoritism and the benefit of others at a cost to oneself, is key to understanding the evolution of humans’ cooperative traits and propensity for intergroup violence. Intergroup conflict is ubiquitous across human societies, repeatedly leading to devastating results of prejudice, war, and genocide. Individuals contribute to these patterns both by supporting in-group members and acting with hostility toward the out-group. When such a combination contributes to success in intergroup conflicts, parochial altruism could have evolved, and biological mechanisms that sustain and promote it are likely adaptive. One such proposed biological mechanism involves the neuropeptide hormone oxytocin, previously linked with various aspects of human sociality, particularly the development of mother–offspring bonds, but also tolerance, coordination, and cooperation between nonkin adults. Owing to its anxiolytic and prosocial effects, oxytocin is proposed to facilitate cooperation during risk, a mechanism potentially co-opted from maternal defense circuitry. Intranasal administration of oxytocin enhances in-group co-operation and trust and out-group defensive, but not offensive, competition in men. This suggests that oxytocin triggers a “tend and defend” form of parochial altruism, accentuating co-operative behavior toward the in-group as well as defensive behavior toward out-groups.” (S)

Although humans are not the only species capable of group violence, humans are the only mammals that can belong a group, “us”, consisting also of members they have never met, making large scale communities a possibility. In addition, vasopressin enhances the likelihood of a preemptive strike, which underscores the hormone’s aggressive effects on human behavior:

“Overall, our study clearly illustrates a role for AVP in human defensive aggression during an experience of potential resource threat. …animal results endorse the idea that vasopressin, which serves basic sexual and protective functions, can be coopted to regulate more complicated social behaviors in species that live in large, complex groups, like humans and monkeys. Although parallel evidence about humans is still elusive, these earlier studies suggest that neuropeptides may deeply regulate human social behavior as well. In this sense, investigating those processes will be essential toward better understanding and possibly regulating various social phenomena in our societies.” (S)

Applying these aspects of oxytocin and vasopressin (higher possibility of defensive aggression and preemptive attacks when social hormone levels are higher) to the witch hunts and Confessional Battles show a similar pattern to what was witnessed before and during the WW2 in Germany for instance, where the separation of the out-group Jews from the in-group started years before the war (and in the Soviet Union and Japan during WW2, as war efforts were accompanied by mass killings of non-conforming in-group members, who were essentially seen as out-group members (S)).

The charts below illustrate that there is a familiar pattern of 1) in-group separation and then defensive aggression towards the singled out scapegoats (witches) when oxytocin levels are high, after which comes 2) aggression, possibly preemptive, towards outside threats/out-groups by rising vasopressin levels. The charts below indicates this path of behavior in the decades during the European witch hunts leading to the Thirty Years’ War. (S)

Witch                                                            hunts and                                                          confessional                                                            battles
The peak in witch hunts is followed by territorial aggression.

The two Ngram statistics (S) below displays the amplitude of the UK and the US witch hunts through the usage of word ‘witch’ in British English and American English books with spikes quite regularly every 80 years, at the beginning on 4th turnings. (S)

The usage of word ‘witch’ in British English coincides with the peak of the European witch trial activity presented before. A red pillar marks the beginning of a 4th turning: 1610 … 1690 | 1770 | 1850 | 1930 | 2010.

The American witch hunts were much smaller in size during the 1610s than in Europe (S), but they peaked higher during the next cycle when the Salem witch trials began in 1692 at the beginning of a 4th turning, marking the peak of American witch hunts.

Prevelance of the                                          word 'witch' in American                                        literature
Usage of the word ‘witch’ in American English. A red pillar marks the beginning of a 4th turning: 1610 | 1690 | 1770 … 1850 | 1930 | 2010. During the 19th century the concept of ‘a witch’ transferred over to the side of fiction literature (S), but before this the books about witches were considered to be non-fiction in nature, even academic, like the Hammer of Witches (S)(S) that was a best-selling book for 200 years, only behind the Bible in sold copies.

The last US witch trials with significance occurred close to 1760, as the graph indicates. (S) This theory is not about explaining the roots of witch hunts and trials, but it is important to highlight that these statistical peaks in the history of scapegoating display a cyclical nature that follows the 80 year Strauss-Howe generational cycle.

5 Other cyclical hypothalamic hormone levels

5.1 Estrogen and testosterone

This chapter reviews the effects of the 80 year generational hormone cycle to the human reproductive system by analyzing generational testosterone and estrogen levels. Most Western nations have seen low birth rates during the 2010s and infertility is more common than before, and poor sperm quality is the cause in most cases. (S) Sperm counts have also decreased significantly during the past decades, over 50% in many countries during the past 50 years. (S) This has been accompanied by falling testosterone levels and the younger generations having less sex. (S)(S)(S)

Phase II generation below, roughly representing human birth cohorts who are in their reproductive ages during the first half of a 4th turning, shows greatly diminished size in the lemming gonadotropic cells, which has resulted in less sex hormones and therefore much smaller testes compared to the phase I and phase III cohorts.

Lemming generational endocrine system
Phase II in the lemming cycle represents roughly the first half of a 4th turning, and phase III represents roughly the latter half of a 4th turning. (S)

Testicular size is therefore presumably lower for the age cohorts in reproductive ages during a 4th turning, which would have a negative effect on sperm quality (S) and testosterone levels, and this would be in line with the current situation in the Western nations.

For women, low estrogen levels can produce many of the same symptoms that low testosterone levels cause men, like infertility and depression. (S) Lower amounts of estrogen could be the cause for why this 4th turning has many childless women, just like 80 years ago in the 1930s when many women born in the early 20th century were childless, which the statistic below of childlessness by year of birth confirms.

Percentage of childless women by year of birth. (S)

It should be noted that the curves between the countries correlate quite tightly, with Spain lagging by a few years with its low point, just like with Spain’s paternal age statistics (in chapter 3.2.3) were lagging by about 10 years when compared to statistics from the US and the UK. (This puts even more weight on the suggestion that Southern Europe has the same generational hormone cycle as Western Europe does, but they’re lagging by about 5-10 years.) Austria and Switzerland also have very similar statistics regarding childlessness by year of birth with birth cohorts close to the year 1940 having the least amount of childless women. (S)

If the statistic above indicates estrogen hormone levels, then it would mean that the birth cohorts born close to 1980, 1900, 1820, 1740, etc. have the lowest levels of sex hormones, which can lead to childlessness. Strauss & Howe note that over five centuries, every 4th turning has been marked by low birthrates, which correlates with the presented statistics, and also with the lemming hormone cycle study.

In contrast, the birth cohorts with the highest levels of sex hormones were presumably born in the 1930s and 40s. This would help explain the significant baby boom of the 1950s and 60s that’s displayed in the graph below. Spain is once again lagging by about 10 years behind others, just like with the infertility rates and also oxytocin proxy statistics.

Fertility rates in the US, the UK, France (FR), Germany (DE), Switzerland (CH), Sweden (SE), and Spain (ES). (S)

Putting the proxy statistics of presumed testosterone and estrogen levels together produces the curve presented below.

Birth cohorts with high fertility/infertility. The effects manifest roughly 25-30 years later when the cohorts are at reproductive ages. The percentages are only rough assumptions based on the vole study mentioned in chapter 1.2.

As for the societal effects of sex hormone levels, this is roughly in line with the Strauss-Howe generational theory, which states that the gender gap between the reaches it’s maximum width during a 1st turning, meaning that the gonadotropic cells are presumably once again more active and secreting more of sex hormones during that period of time, reflecting phase I in the lemming cycle. Higher levels of sex hormones would thus explain the sexual revolution of the late 60s, when the sex hormone levels were still high, resulting in more sexual activity especially among the young. (S)(S) Group coherence was loosening simultaneously, presumably due to decreasing vasopressin levels, resulting in looser unwritten societal rules in the Western nations. (S) According to the Strauss-Howe generational theory, the gender gap is widest during a 1st turning, and this could be attributed to high levels of sex hormones especially in the birth cohorts in fertile ages during a 1st turning.

Apart from issues related to sexual behavior and reproduction, low testosterone levels have other significant impacts to male health, including a heightened risk for developing metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and coronary artery disease. (S) Low testosterone levels have also been linked to depressive symptoms in men, and according to a meta-analysis, testosterone treatments have resulted in significant reductions in depressive symptoms. (S)

The sex hormone levels can now be added to the chart of generational hormone levels that are presumably received at birth (although especially sex, growth, etc. hormones start to be secreted more only once puberty hits).

Presumed oxytocin, vasopressin, and sex hormone levels at birth. The percentages are only rough assumptions based on the vole study mentioned in chapter 1.2. The oxytocin and vasopressin curves have been slightly smoothed in order to better represent the oscillating hormone levels.

5.2 Thyroid hormones

The lemming graph in the previous chapter also shows smaller thyrotropic cell area during phases II and III, which could manifest as increasing prevalence of hypothyroidism among the population during the past few decades, and this seems to be the case according to studies conducted in the Western nations. (S) As for hyperthyroidism, the evidence is less certain what the direction has been during the past few decades. (S)

The remaining hypothalamic hormones that are yet to be included in this theory are dopamine, corticotropin-releasing hormone, growth-hormone-releasing hormone, and somatostatin.

6 Initial conclusions

6.1 Possible societal trajectories

To sum up the findings, there is a large number of statistics that are in support of the existence of cyclically varying hormone levels among the generations in Western nations. Historical proxy statistics of especially oxytocin indicate this. Evidence is less certain for vasopressin levels at the moment, but the presumed oxytocin and vasopressin levels do correlate with the rise of populist nationalism today and also during previous centuries, concurring with the 80 year cycle. Even though populist nationalism has had different ways of manifesting, as structures of countries and also types of available ideologies have varied through the centuries, it has detectable similarities across centuries.

It cannot be emphasized enough that hormone levels impact decision making on an unconscious level. Hormone levels impact actions and reactions of individuals and groups. This coupled with generational variances in hormone levels creates the generational traits listed by the Strauss-Howe generational theory, and gives the traits a biological basis similar to many other cyclical mammal species. In addition, this theory implies that individual and group behavior of humans is closer to other species than previously thought, because individual and group decision making is apparently largely influenced by social hormone levels.

The strength of this theory is in the relative simplicity which allows overlooking individual differences received from genetics and environments by reviewing entire generations. When looking at the current societal developments, the presented generational hormone theory is the only theory that addresses basically all of the central phenomena related to the rise of populist nationalism like rising feelings of nationalism, xenophobia (anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiments, etc.), ideological and political polarization, and group serving lying (aka. post-truth era). This theory also addresses questions like why these phenomena are occurring today and why they are happening all around the Western nations – even in those nations that haven’t experienced major economic or civic difficulties for over two decades. This theory gives ground to the current slow abandonment of the “liberal status quo” inside many Western liberal democracies.

The prevailing views of history can be seen as actions leading to consequences and then actions taken upon these consequences. The example used in the introductory chapter was the often repeated claim that the Great Depression of the 1930s largely caused the Nazi party to get to power in the pre-WW2 Germany. But such suggestions do not explain why the 1970s oil crisis didn’t cause any nationalistic movements. Obviously there were other reasons as well for the rise of the Nazi’s to power, such as the Treaty of Versailles, but such treaties haven’t commonly led to the rise of nationalism. So the explanation is a soup of consequences and actions which rarely solely cause large increases in nationalism, but together they somehow did. But even this does not explain the simultaneous rise of nationalism and anti-Semitism during the 1930s in other European nations.

Presuming that the generational hormone cycle is at least somewhat accurate, predictions could be made about the upcoming years in general. But these predictions would obviously be only like weather forecasts that combine historical models with the current data. The Fourth Turning book links the turnings to seasons of nature, which is fitting, as the conditions of the seasons can’t be known beforehand, but the seasons do run their course – with very familiar and predictable patterns. History can’t predict the future, but understanding varying biological hormone balance between generations could and should provide many answers to why historical events have happened the way they did and in what direction the current societal issues are pivoting towards. That being said, for the remainder of this 4th turning, the high point being somewhere around 2027, the trends listed below will presumably spread and gain popularity in the Western nations.

1) More populist nationalism and political polarization.
2) More xenophobia and hate crimes in different forms towards out-groups, including hate speech, and acts of violence are increasingly based on some in-group ideology.
3) Center and center-left parties continue to lose support.
4) Fake and ideologically influenced news will become increasingly efficient as receptivity for them increases.
5) Increasing demands for censorship as ideological points of view keep separating.
6) Large reforms in legislation, including Brexit, become more difficult to pass due to political polarization.

The U.S. will keep turning into a propaganda democracy with two diverging partisan ideological realities with different sets of facts. The Supreme Court’s system with politically appointed judges could become a contentious issue as the nation’s ideological polarization deepens and passing legislation becomes more and more difficult, which would lead to increasing amounts of attempts to change legislation through court decisions, as the U.S. is a common law nation meaning that court decisions often play a critical role when interpreting the law. A prime example of this “legislation through courts” is the Roe v. Wade decision from the Supreme Court stating that a state law which banned abortions was unconstitutional.

Many European countries will stay on the path on becoming more nationalistic and the EU will start to malfunction, which would lead to less integration. Formation and functioning of governments will become increasingly difficult as many mainstream parties refuse to work with the populist parties, after which some of the populist parties and leaders may have the possibility to form minority governments or have other paths to power through the established big parties in a similar manner as Donald Trump did.

More problems for example with(in) Austria, Poland, Hungary, and Italy are to be expected, more rapidly if there is a recession/depression which would undoubtedly act as a catalyst for the populist movements. The EU will be blamed by populists for many problems as it is an easy target, as are other multi-national organizations like the UN and WTO, along with international treaties from environmental protection to arms treaties (Paris agreement, Schengen Agreement, nuclear arms treaties, immigration treaties, etc.). Items like a common political solution to the climate change issue may have to wait as the political and social divisions increase, both inside and between nations, possibly preventing a global solution from being found and agreed on until a new status quo is reached in global politics. An economic recession or depression would very likely increase the “us vs. them” tensions greatly, since “they” (out-groups) are most often blamed for causing the economic downturn and/or making things worse during it.

6.2 A review of solutions to decrease the appeal of populist nationalism

If one were to view the rise of populist nationalism as a problem/threat, which depends entirely on one’s viewpoint, below are suggestions that several pundits have made on “how to solve the problem of rising populism”, followed by reasons why they won’t work very well according to the presented theory of continuing rise of nationalist populism.

1. “Europe will soon enter a time of post-populism once the voters realize that the populists can’t eradicate the pressing societal problems with easy solutions.” Even if the populist governments can’t solve the problems, they will find ways to blame others for them, like the EU, other nations, minorities or past liberal policies still hurting the country. These explanations will keep the populists in power.

2. “More direct democracy will solve the problem of hate against the elites.” This may work for a while in suppressing the populistic messaging, as it may ease the anxiousness of not having a voice to change the society, but eventually the direction towards nationalism will continue and populist agendas will gain popularity again.

3. “Reduce immigration and influx of refugees to suppress populism.” This may also work for a while, as populistic parties gain power much through the anti-immigrant stances they hold. Unfortunately this will not solve the problems a nation may already have with the growing dissent against the minorities that are already in the country.

4. “Reduce socio-economic inequalities to suppress populism.” Emmanuel Macron tried this recently in France in a quick response to the so called yellow vest protests, and final results are yet to be seen. This is a slow and possibly costly process overall, likely to be led by tax cuts.

5. “Use economic sanctions for non-compliant EU countries if they suppress democracy, justice system or free press.” This may prevent some of the more radical plans of some nationalistic leaders, but will erode trust and cooperation between member nations, driving the EU towards and internal political crisis. But a crisis inside the EU is to be expected sooner or later, as the parties with highly nationalistic agendas will likely join forces in the European Parliament against the parties with the more liberal and globalist views of Europe. If a “union of nationalist parties” reaches a majority in the European Parliament, the results could be unpredictable. To prevent this from happening the traditional parties will probably bend to some of the more populistic demands in order to stay in power, altering Europe’s internal direction and external relations in the process.

6. “Stop hate speech online and elsewhere with ad campaigns and other messaging.” This article explains why this suggestion probably would not work: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/values-matter/201909/why-stop-bigotry-won-t-stop-bigotry

6.3 Physiological issues

If the prediction holds true that oxytocin levels among new parents will start to go down during the 2020s, it is likely that breastfeeding rates and maternal and paternal age will also start to go downwards. In the 21st century oxytocin is given as a nasal spray at hospital for mothers that are unable to breastfeed after giving birth, which may skew some statistics from the 21st century. But there are some statistics implicating that breastfeeding rates in some countries like Sweden may have already started to slowly go downwards after 2005. (S)

If the predictions about sex hormone levels are correct, fertility and birth rates start to go upwards during early 2020s and continue that trend during the 2030s.

6.4 Unresolved questions

  • Finding historical proxy (or direct) statistics for vasopressin levels would solve many open questions.
  • What could be controlling a generational oscillation in the endocrine system? The most logical answer would be the suprachiasmic nucleus that controls the body’s biological clocks.

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  • E-mail: jannem@student.uef.fi