Marriages fixed with oxytocin

Relationships are hard work and most of us have probably felt at some point that communicating positively with our significant other when discussing stressful issues is an impossible task. Now, however, researchers think there may be a safe way to take the “edge” off such discussions.

Reported in Biological Psychiatry, a study by Swiss researchers has investigated the effects of oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” on human couple interactions. The researchers recruited adult couples who received oxytocin or placebo before engaging in a conflict discussion in the laboratory. They found that oxytocin increased positive communication behavior in relation to negative behavior and reduced salivary cortisol (related to stress levels) compared to placebo.

Study author Beate Ditzen noted that this was the first study of its kind and important because it evaluated real-time natural couple behavior in the laboratory. “[Oxytocin] might help us to pronounce the effects of a standard treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, by possibly making the benefits of social interaction more accessible to the individual. But it probably will not replace these standard treatments,” reasoned Ditzen.

The researchers warn that this study does not show that oxytocin should be used as a treatment itself and the effects of repeated administration have not been evaluated in humans. In addition, important ethical concerns will have to be addressed, such as to what extent it should be used as a “treatment” and whether developed treatments could become drugs of abuse in the form of “social enhancers.”

“We are just beginning to understand the powerful effects of hormones and chemicals released by the body in the context of important social interactions,” said John Krystal, editor of the journal. “As this knowledge grows, the question of how to best use our developing capacities to pharmacologically alter social processes will become an important question to explore.”

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Source: Biological Psychiatry

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