Feeling all warm and fuzzy? Chalk it up to oxytocin, the touchy-feely hormone that allows us to trust, bond, and even fall in love. Despite nicknames such as “the moral molecule,” “love potion,” and “liquid trust,” this feel-good chemical may have a surprising dark side.
According to research published in the August 2011 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, the role of oxytocin is not so simple. Andrew Kemp and Adam Guastella, of the University of Sydney, say the “cuddle hormone” may play a role in negative social emotions. They suggest that oxytocin promotes “approach-related emotions,” that is emotions that have to do with wanting something, like you best friend’s significant other. This also includes emotions such as gloating, the malicious pleasure at another’s misfortune, which are related to happiness, albeit in a negative social context.
The authors point out that emotions such as anger, jealousy, and gloating have not been traditionally associated with oxytocin. So a better understanding the nature of this so-called “moral molecule” will help researchers who are studying how to use oxytocin as a psychiatric treatment.
For more on the multifaceted nature of oxytocin check out this past media coverage:
“The Prickly Side of Oxytocin”, from Science Magazine
When participants received a dose of Oxytocin they behaved more altruistically toward members of their own group, but also displayed more “defensive aggression” toward outsiders.
“Social Networking Affects Brains Like Falling in Love” from Fast Company Magazine Can the effects of Oxytocin apply to our social media, such as phones, twitter and Facebook?
This Washington Post article “Hormone-infused nasal spray found to help people with autism,” discusses how Oxytocin is being used to treat the social deficits of people with autism.
Kemp, A., & Guastella, A. (2011). The Role of Oxytocin in Human Affect: A Novel Hypothesis Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20 (4), 222-231 DOI: 10.1177/0963721411417547