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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Could a Nasal Spray Make Hard Talks Easier?

A group of Swiss researchers decided to see what would happen if they gave some couples a nasal spray of oxytocin—often called the "love hormone"—and they had them talk about difficult and stressful topics that often lead to conflict (things like home finances). Oxytocin, whose levels surge during sex and childbirth, has long been shown to reduce anxiety and play a key role in our sense of trust and desire to connect with others. Most of the receptors for the hormone are located in the brain's amygdala, a region that's key for social interaction and processing emotions.
What the researchers found is that oxytocin increased positive communication about negative behaviors and reduced stress levels in the couples.
“We are just beginning to understand the powerful effects of hormones and chemicals released by the body in the context of important social interactions,” says Dr. John Krystal, the editor of Biological Psychiatry, where the study appears. “As this knowledge grows, the question of how to best use our developing capacities to pharmacologically alter social processes will become an important question to explore.”
Even though commercial versions of oxytocin are already available online, the researchers say we shouldn't expect medical treatments involving the hormone anytime soon. Using the hormone as a drug hasn't been tested and evaluated in humans yet, and many have ethical concerns about a drug that can be used—and abused—as a "social enhancer."Heather Wax