New experiments with oxytocin – known as the love hormone because of its importance in bonding between romantic partners and mothers and children – have shown it to have a profound influence on value judgments as well as feelings of well-being and our sensitivity to advertising. The findings were presented at the Neuroscience 2010 conference.
Oxytocin is best known for its vital role in childbirth and breastfeeding, and animal studies have shown that it is also important in monogamous social relationships. Recently, economic research in humans implicated oxytocin in trust and empathy. Additional animal research shows that it may be more rewarding than cocaine to new mothers.
- Oxytocin increases our sensitivity to advertising. Researchers found that after sniffing oxytocin, people were more empathetic toward public service announcements and more likely to donate to their causes.
- In the presence of their newborns, rat mothers’ brains did not respond to learned cues associated with addictive drugs. This suggests that maternal bonds – a function of oxytocin – profoundly influence brain activity and behavior, with important implications for drug-addicted mothers.
- Oxytocin reduces anxiety in stressed animals, but only if they recover in company. It is less effective at relieving stress for isolated animals, suggesting that social contact is an important contributing factor.
- Oxytocin is important in evaluating social signals and may be as rewarding as drugs of abuse in some monogamous animals. The findings have important implications for designing novel treatments for several psychiatric disorders that affect social interactions, including autism and schizophrenia.