You’ve probably heard oxytocin referred to as the “love hormone,” but a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reminds us that there’s much more to it than that. Jennifer Bartz and colleagues treated men either with nasal sprays that included oxytocin or placebo sprays that didn’t, with peculiar results.
Before all of this, the men completed a series of widely used questionnaires to measure the state of their social ties. The questions assessed the nature of their bonds with their families and friends, how sensitive they are to rejection, how comfortable they are at being close to other people, how much they desire that closeness, and more. Shortly after using both sprays, the recruits also answered questions about their mother’s parenting style.
Bartz found that when she averaged out the volunteers’ results, the sniffs of oxytocin hadn’t seemed to colour their memories of their mothers. But things changed when she looked at them individually. Those who felt more anxious about their relationships took a dimmer view of their mother’s parenting styles when they sniffed oxytocin, compared to the placebo. Those who were more secure in their relationships reacted in the opposite way – they remembered mum as being closer and more caring when they took the oxytocin.
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For the first time, researchers have found that oxytocin–the hormone at work when breastfeeding mothers bond with their babies and when couples cuddle–can help autistic patients with social interactions. The small but pioneering study showed that when autistic adults inhaled the “love hormone” oxytocin though a nasal spray, they paid more attention to expressions when looking at pictures of faces and were more likely to understand social cues in a game simulation [Reuters].
The findings will be published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Although more research is needed to confirm and explore the findings, the results are the latest in a growing body of evidence indicating that the hormone could lead to ways to help people with the often devastating brain disorder function better [Washington Post].
People with autism or with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders like Asperger’s syndrome have difficulty engaging in social situations [Scientific American]. They normally have trouble making eye contact and are awkward around other people. They also suffer from low levels of oxytocin–a hormone that is found naturally in humans and animals and helps humans understand emotions and social cues better.
The so-called “love hormone” oxytocin, which is linked to a mother’s tender feelings for her child and long-term devotion between mates, may play a more general role in promoting the social cohesion of a group. In a small new study, researchers found that volunteers who got an oxytocin boost were better able to recognize faces they had seen the day before than people who got a placebo, but were no better at recognizing landscapes and and sculptures that they’d previously viewed.
The results are “striking,” says psychologist Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Insel and colleagues have [previously] shown that oxytocin improves the ability of mice to recognize other mice, … but he notes that this is the first time such a specific effect has been seen in humans. The research “supports the notion that social memory is a unique form of memory, biologically distinct from general object memory,” he says [ScienceNOW Daily News].