More and more women in the U.S. are choosing to be childless. Regardless of whether you're too busy with your career or you just don't want kids, scientists have discovered a new way to kick your maternal instincts into high gear. And it's all thanks to an old friend we like to call, Oxytocin. Researchers found that the intake of oxytocin, or what's more widely recognized as the "love hormone," can tweak the brain in ways so it responds to certain situations with a mother's concern and attentiveness. And, this is an important breakthrough because it may mean that oxytocin could help treat mental disorders, like autism and postpartum depression.
The study, published in Nature, was conducted by neuroscientist Robert Froemke of New York University Langone and colleagues. At first, they took a group of female mice and observed their response to the cries of distressed baby mice. They found that the mice who were mothers, regardless of whether it was their baby or not, quickly responded to the distress cries. However, virgin mice remained indifferent. After all, they aren't moms. They don't care. But when researchers injected some virgin mice with a healthy dose of the "love drug," they eagerly responded to the cries of the baby mice, just like a mother would.
"It was remarkable to watch how adding oxytocin shifted animal behavior, as mice that didn't know how to perform a social task could suddenly do it perfectly," said Bianca Marlin, a postdoctoral researcher at NYU Langone.
The scientists found that changes in the brain and behavior caused by oxytocin were permanent. This is definitely a positive step forward in the discovery of the right treatment for those suffering with mental illnesses.
"We found that oxytocin turns up the volume of social information processed in the brain. This suggests that it could one day be used to treat social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, speech and language disorders, and even psychological issues stemming from child abuse," Froemke said.
Oxytocin is known as the love hormone because of its effects on pair bonding. The hormone is stimulated during sex, birth, breast feeding and so on. Aside from having the power to turn virgins into mothers, there are a lot of other ways oxytocin affects your behavior. From possible weight loss to treating eating disorders to making you sober, oxytocin affects many different aspects of our social behavior. Some of which, you may not even know about.
We break down a few of those ways for you:
1. Oxytocin Makes Us More Monogamous
Researchers from Ruhr University of Bochum in Germany and the University of Chengdu in China conducted a study using 40 heterosexual men in stable relationships. They were shown photos of the women they were in relationships with, in addition to other women. Oxytocin was then administered to some men using a nasal spray. They found that men who had the oxytocin found their lovers as much more attractive than any other women.
Have a partner with a little case of the wandering eye? Give them a nice whiff of Oxytocin. That'll cure 'em.
2. Oxytocin Makes Us More Extroverted
In a study done by researchers at Concordia University, inhaling a nasal form of oxytocin can improve self-perception in social situations.
Mark Ellenbogen, senior author and Canada Research Chair in Developmental Psychopathology said, "Our study shows oxytocin can change how people see themselves, which could in turn make people more sociable ... Under the effects of oxytocin, a person can perceive themselves as more extroverted, more open to new ideas and more trusting."
So the next time you're feeling a little shy, put down the alch-y and try the oxy!
3. Oxytocin Makes Us Good People
In a Ted Talk with neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, he used the phrase, "moral molecule" to describe the love hormone. He found that high levels of oxytocin made people more trustworthy, more generous, and more likely to help strangers.
4. Oxytocin Makes Us Keep Our Distance
In a study published by the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany observed an initial encounter between straight males and attractive females. Before the study, some men were given oxytocin via nasal spray. When they met the women, the men given the oxytocin who indicated they were in a serious relationship, kept an extra 10-15 centimeters away between them and the women, compared to men who weren't given oxytocin.
5. Oxytocin Can Give Us An Overload Of Emotions
While we've been seeing all these positive effects of love and generosity and overall goodness, like everything, there are dark sides to the hormone. For one, too much can be too much. In a study conducted by researchers at Concordia University, they found that participants with no serious social deficiencies, such as autism or schizophrenia, had emotional oversensitivity when administered a dosage of the hormone.
That means reading certain things totally wrong. For example, let's say you're on a date. You're eating at a nice restaurant and your date is totally dressed up. What you don't know is, they completely decided to forego comfort over fashion and they're sitting across from you totally uncomfortable. You keep telling them your life story, and can't help but notice that they're cringing and shifting around every five seconds. If you had high levels of oxytocin, you would completely over think the situation and think your date didn't like you and is jumping at the opportunity to book it out of there.
6. Oxytocin Can Also Make Us Prejudiced
As you know by now, oxytocin plays a major role in our social feelings and behaviors. But those feelings and behaviors may not always be positive. In a study done by psychologists in the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, participants were given a random list of local and foreign names. Some people were told to inhale a dose of oxytocin. Then, out of the list of names, the participants were told to categorize which they would save and which they would sacrifice. The study found that the people with the oxytocin were willing to sacrifice more foreigners than local people, as opposed to people who didn't have the oxytocin.
7. Oxytocin Can Turn Us Into Liars
As we know, higher levels of oxytocin gives us more empathy and trust. But it can also stimulate aggression, if provoked. In a study done by researchers from the Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Israel and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, a group of participants were tasked with predicting the outcome of a coin toss. If the person predicted correctly, their team would earn money. The study found that people who inhaled oxytocin were twice as likely to lie about their scores for the betterment of the team than those who did not. This finding suggests that the hormone plays a role in our moral judgement in social situations. People are willing to sacrifice their ethics for social acceptance.
As you can see, there's so much information out there about oxytocin and its effects on our brains, feelings, and behaviors. Some of it good, some of it not so good. What we do know is there's still so much out there to discover.