The Complicated Social Role of Oxytocin Again Confirmed

Oxytocin may have been given clean and tidy names such as the ‘love hormone’, the ‘trust hormone’, and the ‘cuddle hormone’, but as scientists discover more and more about this powerful molecule, it’s become increasingly clear that its complicated effects can’t be categorized and pinned down quite so neatly.

Another new study published in the last few days has again found that oxytocin can amplify aggression as well as friendliness. The researchers came to their conclusions after studying the effects of oxytocin on mice in a semi-natural setting.

In the semi-natural environment, the mice at first displayed heightened interest in one another, but this was soon accompanied by a rise in aggressive behavior. In contrast, increasing oxytocin production in the mice in classical lab conditions resulted in reduced aggression. “In an all-male, natural social setting, we would expect to see belligerent behavior as they compete for territory or food,” says Anpilov. “That is, the social conditions are conducive to competition and aggression. In the standard lab setup, a different social situation leads to a different effect for the oxytocin.”

If the ‘love hormone’ is more of a complex ‘social hormone’, then it would have huge implications for the ambitions of many to use oxytocin as a pharmacological treatment for a range of socially debilitating conditions from autism to schizophrenia.

“Oxytocin is involved, as previous experiments have shown, in such social behaviors as making eye contact or feelings of closeness,” says Eren, “but our work shows it does not improve sociability across the board. Its effects depend on both context and personality.” This implies that if oxytocin is to be used therapeutically, a much more nuanced view is needed in research: “If we want to understand the complexities of behavior, we need to study behavior in a complex environment. Only then can we begin to translate our findings to human behavior,” she says.


Social Distancing is Playing Havoc with our Oyxtocin Levels

Social distancing may be having a profound effect on our oxytocin levels – the ‘love hormone’ that affects our desire and ability to bond with others.

As millions upon millions across the world are forced to reduce their social interactions, feelings of anxiety and loneliness are increasing – and that’s likely due to a reduction of oxytocin.

However, the relationship between oxytocin and social interaction – or the lack of it – is not always simple. Oxytocin can apparently even be raised in those feeling isolated and stressed.

Aside from subjective feelings of well-being, oxytocin levels have been associated with reduced blood pressure and heart rate.

According to researchers, nothing can completely replace in-person contact to raise oxytocin, but video chat that allows eye contact comes closest.

During times of social isolation, however, it’s important to stay connected to those you love and care about, psychologist Erin Leyba wrote in an article in Psychology Today.

She suggests setting up FaceTime calls with family members, playing virtual games with kids and reading books out loud with others to secure oxytocin’s positive influences during the pandemic.


‘Love Hormone’ Oxytocin could Help with Anxiety and Autism

Another study has found that oxytocin could potentially be used as a treatment for people suffering from social handicaps, from anxiety to autism.

In the latest study, British researchers examined the effect of oxytocin nasal spray – popularly known as the ‘love hormoe’ – on 17 healthy men. The hormone was administered both nasally through a spray, and through the volunteer’s blood.

The research team studied the blood flow to the region of the brain known as the amygdala and found it to be reduced by the combination of nasal and injected oxytocin. The amygdala is thought to be the region of the brain involved in processing social information, emotion and anxiety.

The researchers also found evidence that levels of alertness and excitement was reduced in the volunteers who had been administered the oxytocin.

Interestingly, the team from Kings College London also found that administering the drug via the nasal route targeted areas of the brain which the injection method did not reach, although it was not clear where.

Source :