Supporting Publication: The Role of Oxytocin in Human Affect: A Novel Hypothesis
Oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” is a mammalian hormone that is best known for its roles in sexual reproduction. Research shows that this hormone is responsible for feelings of contentment, reductions in reported anxiety, and feelings of security and calmness when around a mate. Heck, many websites even sell “oxytocin perfume,” claiming that salespeople can more effectively persuade people to buy their products with a couple of sprays from a bottle. Many people are indeed familiar with this hormone and it’s likeable characteristics; however, recent research suggests that oxytocin may have a “dark passenger” of which we are not yet aware (Yes, that was a Dexter reference)!
In an experiment that evaluated cooperation among strangers participating in a game, high levels of oxytocin correlated with more positive social interactions. Players with increased levels of oxytocin were shown to trust their fellow players more than those with lower levels. Separate studies have also found that high levels of oxytocin correlate other behaviors that are good for social life, such as altruism and generosity.
Yes, I know I know. All of this information is boring because you already know it… but bear with me because there are some recent studies that have revealed the dark passenger of the seemingly innocent “love” hormone that you thought you knew all about. How important are these recent discoveries you might ask? Well in the words of Andrew Kemp (a well respected nerd that specializes in hormones like oxytocin), “It kind of rocked the research world a little bit.”
Kemp believes that oxytocin plays a role in social emotions that completely contradicts the role that everyone now associates it with (that being love and contentment). In a recent study that examined several individuals playing a game with a fake opponent, it was found that people who were given oxytocin displayed more envy and gloating when compared to individuals with normal oxytocin levels. These results suggest that oxytocin promotes social emotions that are both positive and negative.
There is still a lot of research and experimentation to be done before Kemp and his colleagues can identify exactly how and why oxytocin can encourage a person to act in two completely different ways in regards to social emotions. The predominant belief has been that oxytocin supports positive social interaction amongst individuals but this new research demonstrates that there is a dark passenger of oxytocin that can encourage a person to act in ways that are less social and more self-centered.
There are some research groups that have been working on methods of using oxytocin as a psychiatric therapy for criminals that have antisocial personalities. This research may suggest that efforts toward oxytocin therapy are a dead end because oxytocin could possibly enhance anger in situations of social interaction. Before we can begin to explore methods of treating psychiatric disorders by manipulating oxytocin levels, it seems that we need to first attempt to understand the entire impact that oxytocin has on the wide range of human emotions.