Aug. 1, 2022 – Nasal sprays that contain the “love hormone” oxytocin have been marketed as a potential cure-all to improve emotional connection with others and even save troubled relationships. But a new study from the United Kingdom suggests otherwise, revealing that oxytocin spray does not make young healthy men more able to recognize emotions.
What did help? A psychological, computer-based emotional training program.
“Our study demonstrates that oxytocin may not always be the most appropriate intervention when trying to improve patients’ social lives and well-being,” says Katie Daughters, PhD, with the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex.
Oxytocin, which is released naturally in the body, plays a key role in managing behavior and emotion.
Some studies have suggested that oxytocin nasal spray may have a role in people who have trouble recognizing emotions, like people with autism, schizophrenia, or social anxiety disorder – although results have been mixed.
People who struggle to recognize emotions are more likely to have poor mental health. The new study looked at whether oxytocin could improve healthy people’s ability to recognize emotions.
The researchers recruited 104 undergraduates with an average age of 19.
Some were given oxytocin nasal spray, others a placebo nasal spray. They then completed a validated, computer-based emotional training program or a mock emotional training program and were tested on their ability to read emotions.
The emotional training program helped the men identify sad and angry faces, but oxytocin spray had no effect at all.
The researchers caution that more study on the effects of oxytocin nasal spray is needed and worth it, especially in women and in people who have psychological disorders.
“We still don’t understand enough about the way the body processes oxytocin sprays. We need to know more about oxytocin before using it as a treatment,” Daughters says.
“Like all medications, it is not advisable to take oxytocin without discussing it with a health care professional. Indeed, as our study demonstrates, there may be other interventions that are better suited to your individual circumstance,” she says.
For now, it remains unclear whether the “love hormone” can help fix troubled relationships.
“No scientific studies have looked at oxytocin administration in romantic relationships. We need further evidence before any recommendations can be made,” Daughters says.
On the other hand, some computer-based psychological interventions can help people recognize and interpret different emotional expressions, she says.