Hormone spray makes men more sensitive

Nasal spray with oxytocin increased empathy and learning success

Oxytocin makes men more sensitive © SXC
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Certain women have been waiting for this: The hormone oxytocin improves the ability of men to emotionally empathize with their fellow human beings. The substance also sensitizes for so-called "social amplifier" as praising or reprimanding faces. This is now shown in a study published in the "Journal of Neuroscience".

Oxytocin is considered a "cuddle hormone". Among expectant mothers, it triggers, among other things, the labor pains, it also strengthens the emotional bond between mother and newborn. Oxytocin is also released in the pair bond, for example during stroking and in large quantities during orgasm. The neuropeptide is therefore associated with feelings such as love and trust. Now, scientists at the University of Bonn and Babraham's Cambridge Institute have been stinging how hormone affects men's behavior and psyche.

48 healthy men participated in the experiment. One half was initially given an oxytocin-containing nasal spray, the other a placebo. The researchers then showed their subjects photos of emotionally charged situations: a crying child, a girl hugging his cat, one

grieving man. The participants should now indicate to what extent they sympathized with the persons depicted.

More empathy through oxytocin

"The oxytocin group recorded significantly higher emotional empathy values ​​than the placebo group, " summarizes René Hurlemann from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Bonn, the main result. However, the participants in the placebo group had no difficulty in rationally interpreting the expression of the faces depicted. The oxytocin administration only caused greater emotional empathy: the men tested achieved levels otherwise indicated

Women are typical. Usually these can gain a significant lead in terms of empathy.

Hormone spray improves learning success

In a second attempt, the participants had to complete a simple Merktest on the computer. If the answers were correct, the message was praised on the screen, and on the screen a blaming face. Alternatively, feedback was provided by green (correct) or red (false) circles. "In general, the learning success was higher when the feedback was over faces, " explains Keith Kendrick of the Babraham Institute. "The oxytocin group, however, responded to the facial feedback much better than the placebo group."

Mandelkern responsible for oxytocin effect?

An important role in this context seems to play the so-called amygdala. This brain structure, termed amygdala in technical terms, is involved in the emotional assessment of situations. Some people suffer from a very rare hereditary disease, which more and more affects the amygdala.

"We had the good fortune to include two patients with such an amygdala defect in our study, " says Hurlemann. Both women responded in the Merktest much worse on praising or reprimanding faces than participants in a control group. In addition, they were impaired in emotional empathy. The researchers therefore suspect that the amygdala may be responsible for the effect of oxytocin.

Influence on emotional ability to empathize

"Our study shows for the first time that emotional intuition is modulated by oxytocin and that the same applies to learning processes with social reinforcers, " says Hurlemann. Therefore, the hormone may be suitable as a drug in diseases such as schizophrenia, which often went hand in hand with a loss of social contact and social withdrawal.

(University Bonn, 30.04.2010 - NPO)