Lay literature promotes the hormone for social bonding, often describing the compound as the love hormone, the monogamy hormone, the cuddle hormone, the trust-me drug.
Recent studies have even shown that the naturally occurring hormone can help people with autism and schizophrenia overcome social deficits.
As a result, some doctors prescribe oxytocin off-label, to treat mild social unease in patients who don’t suffer from a diagnosed disorder.
New research, however, suggests that oxytocin must be used carefully because too much oxytocin (in healthy young adults) can actually result in oversensitivity to the emotions of others.
Researchers at Concordia’s Centre for Research in Human Development have published this finding in in Emotion, a journal of the American Psychological Association.
Researchers recruited 82 healthy young adults who showed no signs of schizophrenia, autism or related disorders into the study. Half of the participants were given measured doses of oxytocin, while the rest were offered a placebo.
The participants then completed an emotion identification accuracy test in which they compared different facial expressions showing various emotional states.
As expected, the test subjects who had taken oxytocin saw greater emotional intensity in the faces they were rating.
“For some, typical situations like dinner parties or job interviews can be a source of major social anxiety,” said doctoral candidate Christopher Cardoso, the study’s lead author.
“Many psychologists initially thought that oxytocin could be an easy fix in overcoming these worries. Our study proves that the hormone ramps up innate social reasoning skills, resulting in an emotional oversensitivity that can be detrimental in those who don’t have any serious social deficiencies.”
As Cardoso explains, “If your potential boss grimaces because she’s uncomfortable in her chair and you think she’s reacting negatively to what you’re saying, or if the guy you’re talking to at a party smiles to be friendly and you think he’s coming on to you, it can lead you to overreact — and that can be a real problem.
“That’s why we’re cautioning against giving oxytocin to people who don’t really need it.”
Source: Concordia University