Love hormone boosts male sensitivity

Oxytocin, a hormone associated with feelings like love and trust, has been found to boost male sensitivity and empathy, says a new study.

One of the effects of oxytocin is that it triggers labour pains. It also strengthens the emotional bond between a mother and her new-born child. It is released on a large scale during orgasm too.

Fortyeight healthy males participated in the experiment. Half received an oxytocin nose spray at the start of the experiment, the other half a placebo.

The researchers then showed participants emotionally charged photos of a crying child, a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man.

The subjects were then invited to express the depth of feeling they experienced for the people shown.

René Hurlemann of Bonn University in Germany said: “Significantly higher emotional empathy levels were recorded for the oxytocin group than for the placebo group.”

The males under test achieved levels which would normally only be expected in women. Under normal circumstances, the “weak” sex enjoys a clear advantage when it comes to the subject of “empathy”.

In a second experiment, the participants had to use their computers to complete a simple observation test.

Correct answers produced an approving face on the screen, wrong ones a disapproving one. Alternatively, the feedback appeared as green (correct) or red (false) circles.

“In general, learning was better when the feedback was shown in the form of faces,” states Keith Kendrick of the Cambridge Babraham Institute in Britain.

“But, once again, the oxytocin group responded clearly better to the feedback in the form of facial expression than did the placebo group,” he added.

In this connection, amygdala seems to play an important role. This cerebral structure is involved in the emotional evaluation of situations.

Certain people suffer from an extremely rare hereditary disease which progressively affects the amygdala, says a Bonn University release.

“We were lucky to be able to include two female patients in our study group who were suffering this defect of the amygdala,” says Hurlemann.

“Both women reacted markedly worse to approving or disapproving faces in the observation test than did other women in a control group.”

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