Summary: Though oxytocin nasal sprays are touted as a potential panacea for saving broken relationships, researchers say it’s highly unlikely to work. Nasal oxytocin has benefits for treating ASD and depression.
Source: University of Essex
Taking the “love hormone” may not be a miracle cure for repairing marriages, research from the University of Essex suggests.
The study – in collaboration with Cardiff University – showed that the therapy helped men read emotions better than giving them oxytocin, which is released naturally and plays an important role in regulating behaviors such as emotions and personal relationships .
And that’s despite the hormone’s nasal sprays being marketed as a potential panacea for saving broken relationships, strengthening parental bonds, and even reducing body fat.
However, the paper, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, showed that the solutions had no effect on more than 100 healthy men who took part in the study.
dr Katie Daughters says research carried out with colleagues in Cardiff showed we need to know more about oxytocin before using it as a treatment.
She said: “Our study serves as an important reminder that oxytocin may not always be the most effective tool when it comes to improving the social lives and mental health of others.
“There are many studies examining whether oxytocin can increase a specific desired outcome, but relatively few studies have actually compared whether oxytocin is better than something else also designed to increase the same outcome.
“In our study, we wanted to improve people’s ability to recognize emotions, since individuals who have difficulty recognizing emotions are at an increased risk of developing poor mental health.
“We found that among healthy young men, those who underwent our computer-based emotion training program were better at recognizing some emotions, but those who had oxytocin showed no benefit.”
As part of the study, Dr. Daughters 104 healthy men with a mean age of 19 years tested in a randomized, double-blind study.
Some received intranasal oxytocin, others a placebo, and then entered either an accredited emotional training program — known as the Cardiff Emotion Recognition Training Program — or a sham training program.
They were then quickly shown faces that had been transformed into different levels of emotion.
It turned out that the training helped to recognize sad and angry faces – but oxytocin had no effect whatsoever.
dr Daughters says more research is now needed to test oxytocin in women and in people with mental disorders.
It’s still hoped that the hormone could be used to help people with autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia and women with postnatal depression who struggle with recognizing emotions.
dr Daughters added, “Many of us are interested in the potential of oxytocin to improve people’s social lives, but if other methods prove to be just as effective or better, then we need to be open to them as well.”
“Our current understanding of how oxytocin sprays work suggests that it may not represent a practical solution in its current form.
“In particular, the beneficial effects of oxytocin, which we want to boost, only last a few hours.
“On the other hand, computational psychological interventions, such as helping someone recognize different emotional expressions and interpret their meaning in different scenarios, can not only have longer-lasting positive effects, but also cost less.”
About this news from psychology research
Author: Ben Hall
Source: University of Essex
Contact: Ben Hall – University of Essex
Image: The image is in the public domain
Original research: Closed access.
“Oxytocin administration versus emotion training in healthy men: considerations for future research” by Katie Daughters et al. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London
Oxytocin administration versus emotion training in healthy men: considerations for future research
Properly identifying emotions is essential for successful social interaction. There is therefore a strong interest in designing therapeutic interventions to improve emotion recognition in individuals struggling with social interaction.
The neuropeptide oxytocin has been proposed as a potential physiological intervention because of its important role in emotion recognition and other aspects of social cognition. However, there are a number of caveats to be considered with the current form of intranasal oxytocin commonly used in the literature.
Psychological interventions, on the other hand, do not involve the same caveats and it is therefore necessary to understand how intranasal oxytocin administration compares to psychological interventions targeting the same psychological phenomena; and whether a combined intervention approach may provide additional benefits.
Here we present a pilot proof-of-concept study in healthy volunteers that compares the effects of intranasal oxytocin to a validated emotion training program and finds that the psychological intervention, rather than intranasal oxytocin, improves emotion recognition specifically for angry expressions. We discuss the theoretical implications of the research for future clinical trials.