The oxytocin made me do it

LOS ANGELES — Researchers have found that after a squirt of the brain hormone ocytocin, volunteers lied more readily about their results in a game in order to benefit members of their team. A group of control subjects  were given a placebo, those given oxytocin told more extreme lies and with less hesitation, according to a study published  by the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers have designed a computer game that asked players to predict whether a virtual coin toss would wind up heads or tails, with a player’s group being rewarded for the right guess. Players then reported their results individually and on an honour system.

Sixty healthy men sprayed either a small dose of oxytocin or instead a placebo into their noses 30 minutes before playing the game. Men in both groups cheated — but the men who had taken the oxytocin cheated much more.

Coin-toss predictions are correct 50 percent of the time, on average, but the players on oxytocin said they made the right prediction 79.7 percent of the time.

— McClatchy Newspapers

Happy Hormone – Ten Oxytocin Benefits

Give someone a cuddle – or even ride a roller-coaster – and you’ll release nature’s  own potent ‘love drug’. Jane Mulkerrins from the Daily Mail unveils the mystery of the hormone oxytocin.

  1. Oxytocin was discovered in 1909 by the British pharmacologist Sir Henry H Dale. He found it could cause contractions and speed up the birthing process, so he named it after the Greek for ‘quick’ and ‘childbirth’. Dale later discovered that oxytocin will also stimulate the release of breast milk by contracting cells around the mammary glands. Studies have also shown that oxytocin plays a significant role in sexual arousal and in orgasm, in both men and women.
  2. Oxytocin is far more than a useful bedroom, birth and breast-feeding aid – it is also a neurotransmitter that acts on the limbic system, the brain’s emotional centre, promoting feelings of contentment, reducing anxiety and stress, and even making mammals monogamous. A University of Maryland study of male prairie voles showed that oxytocin encouraged monogamous behaviour in the usually promiscuous  creatures. New research from the University of California suggests that it has a similarly civilising effect on human males, making them more affectionate and better at forming relationships.  Unfortunately, along with serotonin, it is also one of the chemicals responsible for sending men to sleep soon after any bedroom activities.
  3. Paul Zak – a scientist at Claremont Graduate University in California, has been studying the extent of oxytocin’s potentially vast societal benefits. He believes it
    is the ‘moral molecule’ that helps foster trust, reciprocity, affection, empathy and love; a social glue that keeps society together. In a classic laboratory-based trust game, involving two strangers lending each other money, Zak discovered that trusting someone, who then shows trust in return, releases oxytocin in both parties’ brains, which in turn stimulates feelings of generosity and more trusting behaviour.
  4. Men and women have the same levels of oxytocin, but testosterone can get in the way. In one of his ‘vampire tests’ at a recent wedding of a volunteer couple in Devon,scientists extracted blood samples from the bride, groom, close family and various friends in attendance, before and after the wedding vows. He found that the ceremony caused oxytocin to spike in the guests in direct proportion to the likely intensity of their emotional engagement in the event: the bride recorded the highest increase, followed by her mother, then other close family members, then friends. Only the groom bucked the trend – his testosterone levels were also surging – to double their pre-vow levels, in fact – suppressing the oxytocin. There is evidence that men with higher testosterone levels tend to marry less often, be more abusive in their marriage, and divorce more regularly. But the reverse can also be true: when a man holds his baby, levels of testosterone go down and oxytocin levels increase.
  5. Artificial oxytocin has been manufactured to harness the many medical benefits of the hormone. Synthetic oxytocin, also called Pitocin or Syntocinon, is now often used to induce labour, to reduce the risk of post-birth haemorrhage and to help new mothers who have trouble with producing milk and breast-feeding. The hormone might even help in the treatment of addiction to various drugs, including cocaine, heroin and alcohol, as there is evidence that it stops users building up a tolerance
    to these substances, and also reduces withdrawal symptoms from them. Most oxytocin contained within current preparations has been synthesized.
  6. We can blame stress, and our mothers, when we fail to act kindly. Chronic stress hinders the natural production of oxytocin, and there is evidence that the oxytocin receptors in rats’ brains tend to atrophy when maternal nurturing is insufficient. Reduced oxytocin has been found in the brains of adult survivors of abuse: women who had been abused in childhood tended not to release oxytocin when prompted by signals in laboratory trust ‘games’. Around five per cent of people are estimated to be completely immune to the positive effects of oxytocin; they display some of the traits of psychopaths.
  7. The less clinical, more social feel-good effects of oxytocin are, of course, of interest to big business, which could, theoretically, manipulate oxytocin to boost trust in brands. Companies are already bottling it: you can find 30ml of oxytocin for sale for about £38 on Amazon, and there’s a brand called OxyTrust aimed at salespeople and single men, for  about £35, that markets itself as a ‘trust-enhancing’ spray.
  8. Single men and salespeople aside, those with autism and Asperger’s syndrome – who, research has shown, often have an abnormally low level of oxytocin in their blood – could benefit from
    the hormone. A French government centre for neuroscientific research recently found that patients with high-functioning autism (defined as those of normal or above-normal intelligence) who inhaled the nasal spray temporarily became more sociable and trusting, used more eye contact and were more cooperative.
  9. So are there any negative aspects to this apparent miracle hormone? Potentially, yes. Carsten de Dreu, a psychology professor at the University of Amsterdam, believes the positive social effects of oxytocin – promoting generosity and reciprocity – are strictly limited to ‘in-group’ members, and have no effect on behaviour towards ‘out-group’ members. In other words, it encourages kindness and cooperation only towards those we deem as similar to ourselves.
  10. While having sex and giving birth both release oxytocin, you can also stimulate your levels while keeping your clothes on. Scientists recommend hugging a minimum of eight times a day, stroking pets, having a massage and watching soppy films. Dancing, meditating and making music, particularly in the company of others, are highly effective too. Roller-coaster rides also, improbably, send oxytocin levels soaring, and contrary to concerns that social media is isolating and destructive, using Twitter and Facebook has oxytocin-boosting effects to rival face-to-face interaction.


BBC News – Scientists create ‘trust potion’

A key hormone helps determine whether we will trust lovers, friends or business contacts, scientists claim.

BBC News – Thursday, 2 June, 2005

Exposure to an oxytocin “potion” led people to be more trusting, tests by University of Zurich researchers found.

They report in the journal Nature that the finding could help people with conditions such as autism, where relating to others can be a problem.

But one expert warned it could be misused by politicians who want to persuade more people to back them.

Some may worry about the prospect that political operators will generously spray the crowd with oxytocin at rallies of their candidates
Dr Antonio Damasio, University of Iowa College of Medicine

Oxytocin is a molecule produced naturally in the hypothalamus area of the brain which regulates a variety of physiological processes, including emotion.

It also acts on other brain regions whose function is associated with emotional and social behaviours, such as the amygdala.

And animal studies have shown oxytocin is linked to bonding between males and females and mother-infant bonding.

Reaping rewards

The Swiss and American team of researchers suspected the same effect may occur in humans and invited 58 people to take part in a “trust test”.

The participants in the study played a game, in which they were split into “investors” and “trustees”. The investors were then given credits and told they could choose whether to hand over zero, four, eight or 12 credits to their assigned trustee.

If the investor showed trust, the total amount which could be distributed between the two increased, but the trustee initially reaped all the reward.

It was then up to them to decide if they would honour the investor’s trust by sharing the profit equally – or if they would keep the lot.

At the end of the game, the credits were translated into real money, meaning both participants had a selfish financial incentive.

Investors and trustees were either given oxytocin via a nasal spray, or a dummy, or placebo, version.

Of 29 investors who were given oxytocin, 13 (45%) displayed “maximal trust” by choosing to invest highly, compared with six (21%) of the 29 investors who were given the dummy spray.

Oxytocin did not change the behaviour of trustees.

In addition, when trustees were replaced by a computer, the oxytocin effect was no longer seen on the investors.

Possible ‘abuses’

The researchers, led by Dr Ernest Fehr, say this suggests the chemical promotes social interaction, rather than simply encouraging people to take risks.

And they say it appears to over-ride obstacles such as the fear of being betrayed.

Writing in Nature, the team says: “Oxytoxin does not increase the general inclination to behave prosaically. Rather, oxytocin specifically affects the trusting behaviour of investors.”

They suggest this is because people in the position of “investors” have to take the first step.

The scientists say their findings could potentially be used to help people with conditions such as social phobia and autism which can be linked to persistent fear and avoiding social situations.

“Our results might lead to fertile research on the role of oxytocin in several mental health disorders with major public health significance.”

In the same journal, Dr Antonio Damasio of the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, US, said some might fear the findings could be used by those trying to gain people’s trust.

“Some may worry about the prospect that political operators will generously spray the crowd with oxytocin at rallies of their candidates.

“The scenario may be rather too close to reality for comfort, but those with such fears should note that current marketing techniques – for political and other products – may well exert their effects through the natural release of molecules such as oxytocin in response to well-crafted stimuli.

Original Article Here


Social Gatherings

Oxytocin nasal spray may heal shyness, suggests study

Scientists have found that hormone oxytocin could aid in overcoming the situation of awkwardness in social gatherings.

The chemical has been called as “the hormone of love” and aides in increasing the empathy and bonding factor in case of parents and their children.

Researchers claim that the effects are beneficial in case of the shy – but have little effect on those who are naturally confident, which helps state the implications upon conditions such as autism.

At the Israel’s Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment and Columbia University examined the hormones which came in human beings naturally. They did tests on 27 healthy adult men, via offering a nasal spray and then asking to finish an ‘empathic accuracy task’ -that helped measure the powers and thoughts of other people.

Prof Jennifer Bartz, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained: “Oxytocin is widely believed to make all people more empathetic and understanding of others. Our study contradicts that. Instead, oxytocin appears to be helpful only for those who are less socially proficient.”

He added that more work needs to be done in showcasing the potential of oxytocin in order to cure the social deficits in people with disorders affected by social functioning like autism.

Share – Oxytocin ‘polarises men’s opinions of their mothers’

A hormone known as the “love drug” makes men with good memories of early childhood more nostalgic about their mother’s love, say scientists. – By Stephen Adams, Medical Correspondent

But oxytocin, which is produced in the brain, makes men with bad memories of their mothers even more critical of them, psychiatrists found.

Dr Jennifer Bartz and colleagues from Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York studied the responses of 31 men to the hormone, which is released in large quantities when men and women are in love.

They asked them to complete questionnaires about how well they felt their mothers treated them as children, both before being given oxytocin and afterwards.

Dr Bartz said those who recalled being “closer to their mother” tended to exaggerate the maternal bond after taking the hormone, while the effect on those whose memories invoked “anxiety” was the opposite.

Studies on oxytocin, which is also secreted in abundance in the brains of breastfeeding women, have tended to conclude it is a general mood enhancer.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr Bartz noted: “These data suggest caution when hypothesising about the effects of oxytocin for different individuals or as an intervention.

“On one hand, we found that oxytocin exacerbated chronic concerns about closeness and the reliability of close others that characterize attachment anxiety.

“On the other hand, less anxious participants clearly showed a beneficial response to oxytocin, remembering their relationship with their mother in childhood in a more positive light.

“Oxytocin is popularly dubbed the ‘hormone of love’, but these data suggest that oxytocin is not an all-purpose attachment panacea.”

Earlier this year scientists unveiled a synthetic oxytocin spray that they said made men more affectionate and empathetic, which has been touted as a possible solution for people with autism. Sprays are available to buy on the internet.

Original Article