Hormones can trigger profound changes both to behaviour and physiology. And now researchers show that they can affect our sensitivity to the emotions of our conspecifics. Oxytocin has long been known for its role in birth and breastfeeding. More recent investigations have hailed it as the ‘love’ hormone, helping to strengthen the bond between couples. Researchers have now added to its armoury by demonstrating the effects of the hormone on our ability to read emotions in peoples’ faces. Healthy students were given a nasal spray containing a dose of either saltwater or oxytocin. The hormone-sniffing subjects fared significantly better in deciphering emotions through facial expression. Those who found it most difficult to interpret emotions showed marked improvement after using the oxytocin spray. Researchers hope that the spray, which is already available on prescription, could help with disorders such as autism.
Written by Brona McVittie
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