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Hormone of love oxytocin can cause opposite emotions

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new study shows that oxytocin, dubbed the “love hormone” can also cause opposite emotions that include jealousy, envy and gloating. Oxytocin has been shown to positively impact emotions. New findings show that the hormone of love, oxytocin, can cause negative behavior.

The amino acid peptide, synthesized in the brain is best known for its effects on women. Oxytocin enhances uterine contractions during childbirth and promotes mother-baby bonding following birth. The naturally occurring hormone also facilitates the delivery of breast milk by stimulating specialized cells that release milk into the breast ducts, and is also released during sex. Inhaled doses have been shown to promote communication among couples.

Until now oxytocin has been associated with love and enhanced social interaction, but the new study shows it can also promote feelings of jealousy and other negative emotions.

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Based on rodent studies linking oxytocin to aggression, researchers decided to study oxytocin further. They found that the “love hormone” promoted feelings of envy and jealousy among 56 study participants who competed for money against an unknown opponent – a computer.

Two groups alternated to either receive placebo or an inhalation of oxytocin. The study showed that when the unknown computer competitor won money, the study participants given oxytocin displayed heightened levels of envy when they lost and gloated more when they won.

"Following the earlier results of experiments with oxytocin, we began to examine the possible use of the hormone as a medication for various disorders, such as autism. The results of the present study show that the hormone's undesirable effects on behavior must be examined before moving ahead," write the authors.

The study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, is considered a warning to the researchers about the use of oxytocin as a medication. Research published in 2006 suggested that oxytocin could be developed to treat autism.