Oxytocin is a complex character

Not Exactly Rocket Science elegantly covers a new study that counters the tired ‘love drug’ stereotype associated with the hormone oxytocin.

Although several studies have found that doses of the hormone, usually sprayed into the nose, increase feelings of trust, it is also becoming clear that this just one effect and it may be heavily dependent on situation or the characteristics of the person.

Contrary to the cliché, we reported on a study last year that found that the drug increased feelings of envy and gloating in a trading game.

This new research looked at how a dose of oxytocin altered men’s feeling about their social relationships – including with their mothers – and very different reactions were discovered.

[Psychologist Jennifer 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.

These results show that oxytocin is far from being a simple “love hormone”. As Bartz says, it has a “more nuanced role… than previously thought,” and one that varies from person to person. It’s “not an all-purpose attachment panacea.”


Link to NERS on new oxytocin study.

2 thoughts on “Oxytocin is a complex character”

  1. “Women who were in a couple relationship had greater increases in oxytocin in response to positive emotion. In contrast, higher basal levels of oxytocin were associated with greater interpersonal distress. ”

    Psychiatry. 1999 Summer;62(2):97-113.
    Preliminary research on plasma oxytocin in normal cycling women: investigating emotion and interpersonal distress.

  2. Interesting. My experience with Oxytocin is from when I administered 2 ml injections to sows after they had given birth to make sure they were ’emptied’ (to reduce the risk of infection). Oxytocin stimulates the birth pangs during and right after labour.

    Apologise if it doesn’t sound right… it was not an English speaking context and it is a long time ago, so my vocabulary isn’t English for those work experiences and I had to look a few words up in a dictionary (never a perfect solution).

    Great blog! I really enjoy to read many of the entries.

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