Scientists discover hormone makes monogamous men more faithful

Friday, November 16, 2012 - 1:10am

A new study published Tuesday by the Journal of Neuroscience says the neurohormone oxytocin may make some men feel and act more monogamous.

"Some people call [oxytocin] a 'cuddle drug'," said Frank LoVecchio, the co-medical director at Banner Health's Poison Drug and Information Center.

Oxytocin is made naturally in the body. The study shows that when extra oxytocin is given to men by inhalation, some men who are already in monogamous relationships tended to steer clear of other attractive women.

Scientists gave bottles of nasal spray to a group of men. Half of the spray bottles contained oxytocin dissolved in saline water, and the other half contained only saline water, without any drug. The men and the experimenters who observed them did not know at the time which men received oxytocin and which did not, which enabled them to eliminate the placebo effect.

"[Researchers] then had women walk into the room," LoVecchio said. "Those who were in a monogamous relationship as defined prior [to the study] stood an average of 6.5 inches further away" from the women.

The study also revealed that Oxytocin promotes trust and bonding in men, as well as other positive reactions with women.

"After they got an injection of this drug, the women were less likely to be argumentative and the men were more likely to be calmer," explained LoVecchio.

Oxytocin is often given as an injection to women during childbirth or for inducing labor, and the body naturally releases oxytocin during birth and breastfeeding. LoVecchio said it is unlikely it will ever be made into a supplement for men.

"The big negative with this drug unfortunately is that you can never take it by mouth. There will probably never be a pill form because it's broken down by stomach acid pretty quickly. If you give it intra-nasally it only last a few minutes," he explained.

While researchers may someday discover a substance resembling oxytocin which could be given by mouth, LoVecchio said that drug development was not the most important point of this study. Rather, he said this new information contributes to discussions about the biology of human bonding, a subject which social scientists find very important to understand.

"We, as physicians [and] as scientists, realize that there is a theory here that somehow if you could get these [Oxytocin] levels up, perhaps it could change some behaviors. Men might say, 'Oh, I'll be at a party with many attractive women. I know I should stay away, and this will help me stay on average and extra 6 1/2 inches away from attractive women,'" said LoVecchio.

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