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Boost of Oxytocin makes marmosets more attractive to their long term mates

  • Marmosets were given oxytocin in nose-drops
  • Attracted more social interaction from their long term mates

By Mark Prigg For Dailymail.com

Published: 16:21 EST, 14 October 2015 | Updated: 02:47 EST, 15 October 2015

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A quick boost of Oxytocin could help keep long term relationships together, researchers have found.

They found common marmosets, Callithrix jacchus, a species of New World monkey, that receive oxytocin in nose-drops attract more social interaction from their long term mates. 

Oxytocin is a hormone released naturally in the blood and brains of humans and other mammals, during social and sexual behaviours. 

Nebraska researchers found that received oxytocin in nose-drops attract more social interaction from their long term mates.

Nebraska researchers found that received oxytocin in nose-drops attract more social interaction from their long term mates.

WHAT IS OXYTOCIN? 

Oxytocin, known as the 'love hormone', engenders trust and generosity.

Oxytocin is a hormone released naturally in the blood and brains of humans and other mammals, during social and sexual behaviours. 

The hormone is produced by women during labour to help them bond with their baby. 

It is also released during lovemaking, leading to it being nicknamed the 'cuddle chemical'.

Other loving touches, from hugging a teddy bear to patting a pet dog, also trigger its release.

Previous studies showed that individuals who receive an oxytocin boost show greater sociability, through increased cooperation, altruism and communication with members of the same social group. 

However, much less is known about how others interact with those treated with oxytocin, the researchers from the University of Nebraska at Omaha found.

'We are the first to show that marmosets treated with oxytocin receive more social attention from their long-term mate,' says first author Jon Cavanaugh, a graduate student at the Callitrichid Research Center in the Department of Psychology, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Cavanaugh and colleagues further observed differences between males and females: males that received oxytocin attracted more physical proximity from their female partners, while females treated with oxytocin attracted more grooming from their male partners.

Interestingly, such enhanced bonding occurs without the oxytocin-treated individual soliciting more interaction from their mates or making more sexual displays towards them. 

'We found that untreated marmosets displayed greater interest in interacting with their long-term mate when their mate received oxytocin than when their mate received a placebo, potentially indicating an increase in perceived social attractiveness. 

'The changes induced by oxytocin seem exceptionally subtle, since we did not observe any obvious difference in the solicitation behaviour of the oxytocin-treated marmoset,' says Cavanaugh.

Like humans, marmosets are highly social, form long-term male-female relationships, and care for infants as a couple. 

Asked about the study's relevance for humans, Cavanaugh says that 'oxytocin changes social motivation towards others and, according to our study, it also increases the social attractiveness of individuals treated with oxytocin. 

Persons with social deficit disorders, including autism spectrum disorders and social anxiety, typically have reduced rates of initiating and maintaining normative social interactions. 

LOVE REALLY IS A DRUG 

Research shows that a hormone released by new mothers, lovers and even doting dog owners has many of the same effects as alcohol.

Oxytocin, known as the 'love hormone', engenders trust and generosity – but, just like a drink or two, it can also fuel aggression.

The similarities between oxytocin and alcohol are 'striking', say British researchers. 

The hormone is produced by women during labour to help them bond with their baby. 

It is also released during lovemaking, leading to it being nicknamed the 'cuddle chemical'.

Other loving touches, from hugging a teddy bear to patting a pet dog, also trigger its release.

But the hormone has a dark side, with some psychopaths having more than ten times the normal amount.

Birmingham University researchers re-examined previous studies and discovered that just like a glass or two of wine, oxytocin makes us feel more generous, trusting and empathic. 

And by making us more relaxed, it lowers our sense of fear, which could lead to us taking risks that we otherwise wouldn't. But it also fuels aggression, arrogance and envy.

Writing in the journal Neuroscience and Behavioural Reviews, researcher Dr Ian Mitchell says oxytocin – which can be bought as a nasal spray – could give the Dutch courage we need for first dates, job interviews or other nerve-racking situations. But he suggests relying on natural forms instead.

'If you are anxious about going for an interview, a quick embrace from your partner could certainly help,' he said.

While it might seem odd that a substance that evokes feelings of trust also causes anger, Dr Mitchell says it makes perfect sense. 

He believes that new mothers are programmed to become aggressive when oxytocin surges as this reaction will help protect their babies from harm. 

Thus, oxytocin treatment could enhance sociality in individuals with social deficit disorders, both by increasing their motivation to interact with others and by increasing their attractiveness as a social partner.'

The results were obtained after the scientists observed social interactions across several days in 6 couples of adult marmosets, after 8 weeks of common housing and long-term bond formation. 

Each observation session lasted 20 minutes, starting 30 minutes after one of the individuals received an oxytocin boost, an oxytocin damper, or a placebo treatment. 

The boost was given through nose-drops with oxytocin, and the damper was an oxytocin antagonist drug hidden in their food. 

These are relatively non-invasive methods to deliver the substances to the central nervous system, where they are known to change social and emotional behaviours.

The researchers point to the need for future research, particularly on the long-term effects of oxytocin treatment. 

The rapidly growing field of oxytocin and sociality is leading to the conclusion that oxytocin does not simply enhance social behaviour universally. 

'In addition to enhancing prosocial behaviour, oxytocin treatment has also been associated with enhanced outgroup discrimination and enhanced sensitivity to negative social contexts' says Professor Jeffrey French, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Director of the Callitrichid Research Center, an expert on the hormonal basis of social behaviour.

'Further exploration of how oxytocin may modify the attractiveness of social partners could identify another mechanism by which this molecule can help with disorders that have social dysfunction as a prominent feature', said French.

 

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