"Love Hormone" Oxytocin Makes Bad Relationships Feel Worse

Is the miracle "love hormone" oxytocin too good to be true?

Oxytocin is widely known as the "love hormone" released during birth and breastfeeding to bond a mother and child, but it's released other times, too. Like during an orgasm. Or a romantic date.
Oxytocin supposedly overflows us with positive feelings about one another. Or does it? A study published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that "rather than being a love drug, oxytocin is more like a social memory enhancer- linking experiences with people not just to pleasure, but to pain if that's what early relationships involve."

TIME magazine reports that Dr. Jennifer Bartz, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and her colleagues tested 31 men ranging in age from 19 to 45 to measure their childhood attachment to their mothers. The researchers gave all of the men both oxytocin and a placebo, and they discovered that in response to the oxytocin, "men who were securely attached tended to remember Mom as warmer and more loving" and "those with attachment anxiety remembered their mothers as less caring and more distant when given oxytocin."

In other words, the oxytocin didn't have the type of affect researchers supposed the "love hormone" would. Oxytocin is not "an all-purpose attachment panacea," Bartz wrote, but rather a hormone that, when released, intensifies your feelings about other people, either positive or negative, based on your interactions with them.

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Jamil Zaki, a co-author of the study from Harvard, says oxytocin is no Love Potion No. 9. "If oxytocin were really a 'love drug,' if you give it to people, they should feel in love and attracted to anyone," Zaki says. "No matter who they are, it should increase prosocial feelings. Our research dispels that myth."

If you want to test out the effects of oxytocin yourself, head to Babble's Strollerderby to find out about a synthetic oxytocin spray that some scientists say makes men more affectionate and sympathetic.


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