'Love hormone' oxytocin carries unexpected side effect

January 22, 2014

The love hormone, the monogamy hormone, the cuddle hormone, the trust-me drug: oxytocin has many nicknames. That's because this naturally occurring human hormone has recently been shown to help people with autism and schizophrenia overcome social deficits.

As a result, some psychologists are keen to prescribe oxytocin off-label, in order to treat mild social unease in those who don't suffer from a diagnosed disorder. Not such a good idea, say researchers from Concordia University's Centre for Research in Human Development. Their recent study, published in the American Psychological Association's journal Emotion, study shows that, in healthy young adults, too much oxytocin can actually result in oversensitivity to emotions in others.

To perform the study, PhD candidates Christopher Cardoso and Anne-Marie Linnen, and psychology professor Mark Ellenbogen recruited 82 healthy young adults who presented no signs of schizophrenia, autism or related disorders. Half of the participants were given measured doses of oxytocin while the other half was given a placebo.

Participants then completed an emotion identification accuracy test that had them compare different facial expressions showing various emotional nuances. As expected, the participants who had been given oxytocin saw greater emotional intensity in the faces that they were rating than did those given a placebo.

"For some, typical situations like dinner parties or job interviews can be a source of major social anxiety," says Cardoso, who was the lead author on the study. "Many psychologists initially thought that oxytocin could be an easy fix in overcoming these worries. Our study proves that the ramps up innate social reasoning skills, resulting in an emotional oversensitivity that can be detrimental in those who don't have any serious social deficiencies."

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Watch Concordia researcher Christopher Cardoso explain the links between oxytocin and oversensitivity

Cardoso explains: "if your potential boss grimaces because she's uncomfortable in her chair and you think she's reacting negatively to what you're saying, or if the guy you're talking to at a party smiles to be friendly and you think he's coming onto you, it can lead you to overreact and can be real a problem. That's why we're cautioning against giving oxytocin to people who don't really need it.

Ultimately, oxytocin has solid potential to help those with diagnosed mental disorders overcome , such as autism, but the potential social benefits of in most people may be countered by unintended negative consequences, like being too sensitive to emotional cues in everyday life.

Explore further: A single spray of oxytocin improves brain function in children with autism

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not rated yet Jan 23, 2014
Well, this study is a kick in the guts. As a sufferer of social anxiety, I was hoping that maybe oxytocin could be a treatment option. People with SA avoid social situations as much as possible, out of embarrassment, fear. If oxytocin increases that sensitivity then that is not a good thing!

But I have heard that oxytocin boosts confidence as well. So which is it then?
not rated yet Jan 23, 2014
The problem I have with these and similar studies is the avoidance of finding the fundamental role of the chemical in favour of a secondary roles popular in folk science and more likely to attract funding. The *primary* role is the role the chemical has whether an individual is socialising or not.

It is almost as if these researchers think that everybody on the planet attends a university and meet and socialise with others continuously every day. But many people do not socialise continuously. Indeed, a significant proportion of people now and especially in the past did not socialise very much at all, for instance farmers, miners, explorers, truck drivers before radio etc etc etc.

Are we to assume that oxytocin played no role in those people? Do they even have the chemical present? Would it make any difference to them?
5 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2014
The naive 'five factor model' makes a similar error. Some of the factors vary widely in the same individual depending on the environment they are in and on their default environment. A person may appear to be introverted, not very conscientious and so on in social situations but extrovert and conscientious in their default reclusive environment. Many writers, researchers, engineers and so on are exactly like this. But the personality inventory assumes that a college environment is the entire world's default, and we see it in these oxytocin fantasies as well.

But one must not be too harsh ~ proper research is more expensive, time consuming, and requires a high intellectual resource than is not readily available in the intellectually diluted university atmosphere prevalent today
not rated yet Jan 23, 2014
What's the bet that they'll ban it because of one side-effect.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2014
Just use psychedelics. A couple of sessions with mescaline, ayahuasca, or mushrooms + MDMA will fix you right up. For a time. Then the ball is in your court to make the changes permanent.

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