Hormone May Help Build Trust

Oxytocin Helps Mice Establish Trust and Form Social Relationships

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 17, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 17, 2005 -- A hormone best known for its role in preparing mothers for motherhood may also help both men and women establish trusting relationships.

A new study shows male and female mice that lacked a receptor for the hormone oxytocin had problems establishing trust and normal social relationships.

Researchers say the hormone appears to play a key role in social bonding and the results may offer new clues about the biological causes of social disorders in humans like autism.

Hormone Builds Trust

Previous studies have shown that the hormone oxytocin is involved in preparing mothers for the physical aspects of childbirth, such as stimulating uterine contractions and breast lactation.

It's also been shown to play a role in social aspects of mating and reproduction, including the promotion of bonding between mothers and offspring and between mates.

In this study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers showed the hormone's receptor may also facilitate the formation of trust demonstrated through social bonding. A hormone uses a receptor to bind to a cell and perform its duties.

The results showed that male and female mice that lacked the oxytocin receptor had problems forming trust and establishing normal social relationships.

For example, female mice lacking the oxytocin receptor had impaired nurturing abilities and were slow to retrieve their pups when they wandered off.

Male mice lacking the receptor tended to be more aggressive toward other males and had "social amnesia" when separated and reintroduced to a female. The males also had less vocalized calls and a greater tendency to move around and explore.

Researchers say other hormones may sometimes compensate for a lack of oxytocin, but this hormone appears to play a key role in social bonding and the formation of trust.

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SOURCES: Takayanagi, M. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Oct. 17, 2005 online early edition. News release, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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