Who ever thought that couples could bond over nasal spray? But new research shows that a nasal spray containing the “love hormone” oxytocin helped make regular guys more empathetic and less gruff. Oxytocin is the hormone that strengthens the bond between nursing moms and their babies, and it’s also involved in pair bonding, love, and sex.
The spray was tested on a group of 48 healthy males–half received a spritz of the nose spray at the start of the experiment and the other half received a placebo. The researchers then showed their test subjects emotion-inducing photos like a bawling child, a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man. Finally, they asked the guys to express how they felt.
The placebo group men reacted normally to the soppy pictures; which is to say they were either mildly uncomfortable or stoic. Whereas the group that had used the nasal spray were markedly more empathetic.
Emma Wilkinson at BBC:
Professor Kendrick said the oxytocin spray may prove to be useful in people with conditions associated with reduced social approachability and social withdrawal, such as schizophrenia.
And other researchers are already looking at its potential use in autism.
“The bottom line is it improved the ability of people to learn when they had positive feedback and that is pretty important because this might help improve the effectiveness of behavioural therapy or even be useful in people with learning difficulties.”
Professor Gareth Leng from Edinburgh University said the research used some cleverly-designed tests.
He added there has been a lot of interest recently on oxytocin and social behaviour.
“This study is the latest of several that suggest that intranasal oxytocin seems to ‘sensitise’ people to become more aware of social cues from other individuals – and more likely to be sympathetic to them.”
Anna N at Jezebel:
The Times of India chimes in too: “Under normal circumstances, the ‘weak’ sex enjoys a clear advantage when it comes to the subject of ’empathy.'” Coverage of the study mentions women’s empathy so consistently that the study authors themselves may have referenced it, but it would’ve been nice to see exactly how women performed on a similar photo test — rather than just some platitudes about the “weak” sex.
Still, the real fun comes in when journalists talk about applications for the spray. Here’s Rosemary Black of the Daily News:
Think your man’s too macho? A new nasal spray may turn him into a sensitive romantic who’s tuned in to your every mood.
And the Times of India:
Women’s prayers have finally been answered: Scientists have developed a spray which can make men sensitive and affectionate using a ”cuddle hormone”.
I know how much I love looking at photos of crying children and having deep emotions. If only a simple nasal spray could help “my man” share this with me! In all seriousness, though, the spray does seem to have some interesting potential uses. In addition to making dudes emote over kitten pics, the spray improved their “socially motivated learning.” The men took a test in which they were shown a happy face for every right answer and a mad face for every wrong one. The oxytocin spray made this positive and negative feedback more effective, and helped the men improve faster. Researchers say the spray could be useful in therapies for autism, learning disabilities, or even schizophrenia.
The study sounds promising for those with disorders that make it difficult to learn or empathize with others. And I’m willing to buy that hormones can play a role in the way men and women process others’ emotions — though socialization clearly has a role as well. However, I doubt that a shot of oxytocin is going to make a man — or a woman — “tuned in to your every mood.” Luckily, we already have a method for that: it’s called talking.
Judy Mandelbaum at Salon:
Just imagine the commercial opportunities! If this hormone genuinely wreaks as much havoc on men’s gray matter as the scientists claim — I mean, if a simple nasal spray can actually teach men how to talk — where can I invest in a new line of oxytocin-based women’s fragrances? My bank account could sure use an extra million or two (or twenty).
But the hormone has other effects as well. Oxytocin, a natural human protein that is manufactured in the pituitary gland, triggers labor pains and “strengthens the emotional bond between a mother and her new-born child,” particularly during breast-feeding. “Oxytocin is released on a large scale during an orgasm, too.” The doctors report that “this hormone might … be useful as medication for diseases such as schizophrenia, which are frequently associated with reduced social approachability and social withdrawal.” Or maybe it will help when your sometime boyfriend forgets to call you back for a week. Same thing, right?
This stuff sounds like relationship Viagra, and I suppose now’s the time to throw in a joke about nasal sprays for putting the toilet seat back up and taking out the trash. Ha-ha. But the real question might be just how “touchy-feely” women really want the men in their lives to be. Isn’t part of the appeal of men their ability to just be there and listen to you without automatically verbalizing every thought that flits through their head? Do we really want their eyes to mist over when we can hardly hold back our own tears? And can’t a certain aloofness in a relationship allow trust and love to grow? Alas, the research has nothing to say about such matters.
But what I’m wondering is whether we truly want to hear everything men have to say for themselves. Maybe some things really are best left unsaid after all. Last year Garrison Keillor wrote a column that included these terrifying lines:
Women say, “Why don’t you talk to me anymore? I wish you’d tell me what’s going on with you!” so I start talking (like now) and they say, “How can you say that?” This is our dilemma.
I haven’t stopped shaking yet.
But if the new nasal spray goes into mass production one of these days and we suddenly find ourselves living in a brave new world of compulsively emoting, verbalizing men, I suspect we might soon start pining for the strong silent type once more. After all, doesn’t true poetry lie hidden in the space between the words…?
Jon Bershad at Geekosystem:
That’s all well and good but, until there’s proof that the drug positively affects those diseases, everyone will just know it as “the drug that makes guys act like ladies” which is kind of hilarious. Who knows, maybe the phrase “nose sprayed” will one day replace “whipped” and we can all make spray sounds at our friends when they have to go on date night instead of hanging out and drinking beers.
Oh, what a beautiful future is before us.