This guest article from YourTango was written by Dr. Christie Hartman.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of oxytocin. If you have, that’s not surprising. To the extent that trends exist for substances that naturally occur in the human body, oxytocin is quite trendy these days.
In our attempt to understand the science of love and attraction, and recently more specifically about cheating, oxytocin has taken center stage, possibly outdoing dopamine in its ability to explain human relationships.
What is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a human hormone (a neuropeptide, to be precise) that plays a significant role in reproduction. Studies show that it is present in large amounts during and after childbirth, it increases in both men and women during and after sexual activity and appears to correlate with bonding between humans, increased levels of trust and empathy and decreased fear and stress levels.
It has been coined the “love hormone.” But research suggests that oxytocin is more likely the “social hormone” that facilitates bonding and closeness with mates, children, friends,and other people who are important to us.
Some time ago, a bunch of articles appeared from various dating experts warning women to avoid casual sex. Why? Oxytocin. The idea was that if a woman engaged in sex with a man, she would release the love hormone and want to bond with him. She would want love, when he only wanted sex.
The extent to which such hypotheses annoy me cannot be overstated. Not only are they scientifically unfounded, they oversimplify a rather complex issue, which brings me to my main point.
Oxytocin and Cheating
I don’t generally write much about cheating or infidelity for a few reasons. One, it’s a massive topic, worthy of its own blog and book. Two, cheating is really a relationship issue and I prefer to focus on dating. BUT, when an interesting scientific study crosses my path, I pay attention.
A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience (entitled “Oxytocin Modulates Social Distance between Males and Females”) took an interesting look at the relationship between oxytocin and infidelity. Given that oxytocin is the hormone for love and social bonding, is it possible that it plays a role in the prevention of cheating and infidelity? In other words, does oxytocin and closeness to one’s partner make cheating less likely? Not an unreasonable hypothesis.
To get at this question, the researchers conducted a randomized placebo-controlled trial, which means that they randomly assigned subjects to two groups: one that received intranasal administration of oxytocin, and another “control” group that got some type of non-oxytocin (placebo) spray. The researchers then exposed the subjects to attractive members of the other sex, both live and photographs. What they found was this:
- Men who were in monogamous relationships and given the oxytocin spray kept a much greater distance (∼10–15 cm) between themselves and the attractive woman when compared to the non-oxytocin control group.
- This effect did not occur with single men, nor did the distancing effect occur when the men were exposed to men.
- Moreover, when the men in monogamous relationships who were given the oxytocin spray were shown pictures of attractive women to examine, they approached the pictures more slowly than their counterparts who were given no oxytocin spray.
What’s interesting is that the men still found these women attractive. In this study, oxytocin didn’t make the women less attractive, it simply made the men in relationships keep their distance.
Does this mean oxytocin is the cure for cheating? No. But this study, like any good study, raises interesting questions that can be further examined in new studies, which leads to more insight. Lots could be said on this, but I’ll leave you to comment on what you think of this research.
More cheating advice from YourTango Experts:
- 3 Mistakes Women Make When They Suspect Cheating [EXPERT]
- Experts Agree: Cheating Is Not About Sex [VIDEO]
- How Popular Is Cheating? [VIDEO]
Man with crossed fingers photo available from Shutterstock