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Oxytocin Fuels Distinction of Self & Others

Oxytocin Fuels Distinction of Self & Others New research finds that oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone” could also make us more accepting of other people.

Valentina Colonnello, Ph.D, and Markus Heinrichs, Ph.D., found that oxytocin can sharpen the brain’s self-other differentiation — a function that has been shown to play a crucial role in social bonding, successful social interactions and the tolerance of others.

Oxytocin is known for its ability to promote mother-infant attachment and romantic bonding in adults.

Investigators also found that oxytocin helps to increase our positive evaluation of other people. This further supports the role of the oxytocinergic system in the empathic response and the modulation of social cognition.

“Social bonding, mutual support, mate preference and parental investment,” said Colonnello, “are all mediated by the oxytocinergic system, which is heavily reliant on a person’s ability to appreciate that self and others are both different and valuable.”

Participants in the study were shown videos of their own face morphing into an unfamiliar face and vice versa, and were instructed to press a button as soon as they felt that they saw more features belonging to the incoming face.

Of the 44 participants, those given oxytocin before the task were significantly faster at identifying the new face, regardless of whether it was their own or that of a stranger.

The placebo-treated participants were also more likely to rate their own face as being more pleasant to look at than an unfamiliar face. The oxytocin-treated participants, on the other hand, rated both their own face and others faces as similarly pleasant.

“The results of these studies advance our understanding of the role of the oxytocinergic system and could have far-reaching implications in the area of mother-infant bonding, the treatment of social disorders and for relationships in general,” added Dr. Colonnello.

The ability to differentiate self from other — a concept that dates back to Freudian theory — remains one of the commonly used markers of early child brain development.

Freud originally theorized that both the creation and sensation of a sense of self, as distinct from a sense of others, and the ability to tolerate emotions in self and others were developmental tasks of the latency phase of child brain development.

These ideas were further investigated by attachment theorists who, backed up by subsequent clinical studies, found that better self-other differentiation and a greater interest in unfamiliar others were also positively associated with feelings of emotional confidence and feelings of security.

Conversely, a diminished ability to discriminate whether stimuli are related to the self or to others is associated with deficits in interpersonal interactions often seen in various psychopathologies. For example, individuals with schizophrenia may exhibit both social deficits and some impairment in self-recognition processes.

Self-other differentiation also plays an essential role in mother-infant bonding. The results of this latest study are aligned with another recent study that studied the effects of oxytocin and psychotherapy on mothers suffering post-natal depression.

While the combined treatment did not directly relieve the mothers’ symptoms, a reduction in narcissistic and hostile tendencies was observed in their behavior.

The research is published online in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Source: Rubenstein Associates, Inc.

Woman’s face in a mirror photo by shutterstock.

Oxytocin Fuels Distinction of Self & Others

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Oxytocin Fuels Distinction of Self & Others. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Sep 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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