Study: For Social Rejection, a Nasal Spray

Students who sniffed oxytocin ("the love hormone") were more likely to maintain trust in others after getting their feelings hurt.
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Esparta/Flickr

PROBLEM: Oxytocin is one of the most powerful little hormones to ever come in a nasal spray. Fondly referred to as both "The Hormone of Love" and "The Cuddle Chemical," it's been shown to make men in relationships want to stay away from other women, though its power to promote trust and in-group sociability might also mean that it makes us conformists. Fortunately, researchers are mostly working on finding ways to harness its powers for good. 

METHODOLOGY: At Concordia University, in Canada, researchers had 100 students spray either oxytocin or a placebo up their nostrils. They were then "subjected to social rejection": some presumably young-looking researchers posed as students in a small discussion group and basically acted as obnoxiously as possible by disagreeing with, interrupting, and ignoring the participants. Afterwards, the snubbed students filled out several questionnaires meant to evaluate their mood and personality.

RESULTS: Some of the participants were more upset about being subjected to social rejection than others; of those, the ones who had inhaled oxytocin reported having a greater sense of general trust in people (they were more likely than those on the placebo to be in agreement with phrases like "I think that most of the people I deal with are honest and trustworthy").

The students who weren't emotionally distressed by the social beatdown weren't affected by the oxytocin, either.

IMPLICATIONS: What the researchers are getting at is that by promoting trust, oxytocin might encourage people to reach out to others, specifically at times when they're feeling stressed or depressed. People with clinical depression tend to withdraw into themselves, even though a strong social network is important to recovery. While still theoretical, the idea that a spritz of oxytocin could be the push they need to seek out social support is certainly intriguing, and perhaps the most promising use we've found for a nasal spray since the one that can help women achieve orgasm.


The full study, "Stress-induced negative mood moderates the relation between oxytocin administration and trust: Evidence for the tend-and-befriend response to stress?" is published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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