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Oxytocin Can Bring Back ‘Unloving’ Memories, Too

‘Love Hormone’ May Be Linked to More Than Just Bonding and Feelings of Closeness
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 29, 2010 -- The so-called “love hormone” oxytocin may reinforce loving as well as not-so loving memories of mom for men, according to a new study.

Researchers found the hormone amplified pre-existing memories of motherly love in adult men who took a dose of the hormone.

For example, men who already had fond memories of how their mother cared for them as children experienced even stronger feelings of closeness after taking oxytocin. At the same time, men who recalled their relationship with their mothers with more anxiety tended to remember being less close with their mother in childhood after being given the hormone.

"Ocytocin is popularly dubbed the 'hormone of love,' but these data suggest that oxytocin is not an all-purpose attachment panacea," writes researcher Jennifer A. Bartz, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How Oxytocin Works

Oxytocin is a hormone that is released directly into the brain, where recent research has shown it plays a critical role in bonding and attachment in animals. The hormone is also released by men and women during orgasm and found at high levels in lactating women.

Previous studies have suggested that the hormone positively enhances how people experience and remember a range of social interactions. But researchers say these results suggest that oxytocin enhances not only positive emotions and recollections of social interaction but negative ones as well.

They say the study also raises the question of whether oxytocin increases people’s abilities to accurately recall their childhood relationships with their mothers.

In the study, researchers interviewed 31 healthy adult men about how they felt about their close relationships with family members, romantic partners, and friends and then gave them a dose of 24 IU (international units) of oxytocin or a placebo. About 90 minutes after receiving their dose, the participants were interviewed about their recollections of their mother's care during childhood and their responses were compared to those given at the start of the study.

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