New study finds that oxytocin supplements are unlikely to mend your marriage.
According to a University of Essex study, using the “love hormone” is unlikely to be a magic treatment for repairing marriages. The research, conducted in partnership with Cardiff University, found that therapy improves men’s ability to read emotions better than oxytocin dosage, which is naturally produced and plays a key function in regulating behavior, such as emotions and personal relationships.
This is despite the fact that nasal sprays of the hormone are being touted as a possible cure for mending strained relationships, strengthening parental bonding, and even reducing body fat. The study, however, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, found that the solutions had no effect on the more than 100 healthy males who participated in the study.
According to Dr. Katie Daughters, the study, which was conducted with colleagues in Cardiff, demonstrated that we need to learn more about oxytocin before employing it as a treatment.
She said: “Our study serves as an important reminder that oxytocin may not always be the most effective tool when trying to improve the social lives and mental health of others. There are lots of studies examining whether oxytocin can increase a particular desired outcome, but relatively few studies have actually compared whether oxytocin is better than something else which is also designed to increase the same outcome.”
She continues, “In our study, we wanted to improve people’s ability to recognize emotions, as individuals who struggle to recognize emotions are at an increased risk of developing poor mental health. We found that in healthy young men, those who completed 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 recruited 104 healthy men with an average age of 19 who were tested in a randomized, double-blind study.
Some were given intranasal oxytocin, others a placebo, and then took some took part in either an accredited emotional training program – known as the Cardiff Emotion Recognition Training program – or a mock training program. They were then quickly shown faces that had been morphed into different levels of emotion.
It emerged that the training helped identify sad and angry faces – but oxytocin has no effect whatsoever.
Dr. Daughters says more research is now needed to test oxytocin with women and on those who suffer from psychological disorders.
It is still hoped the hormone could be used to help those with autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and women with post-natal depression – who struggle with emotion recognition.
Dr. Daughters added: “Many of us are interested in the potential oxytocin has to improve the social lives of individuals, however, if other methods are found to be as effective, or better then we need to be open to these as well. Our current understanding of how oxytocin sprays work suggests that, in their current form, it may not be a practical solution. In particular, the beneficial effects of oxytocin that we want to bolster only last for several hours.”
She concludes, “On the other hand, computer-based psychological interventions, like helping someone to recognize different emotional expressions and how to interpret their meaning in different scenarios, may not only provide longer-lasting beneficial impact but also cost less.”
Reference: “Oxytocin administration versus emotion training in healthy males: considerations for future research” by Katie Daughters, D. Aled Rees, Laura Hunnikin, Amy Wells, Jeremy Hall and Stephanie van Goozen, 11 July 2022, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.