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    Oxytocin: A Mindreading Hormone?
    By News Staff | August 2nd 2012 01:49 PM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    The hormone oxytocin is well-known as the “bliss hormone” because it is secreted upon stimulation by touch and is known to result in a feeling of calm and physical relaxation. But odder claims are that is is a “mindreading” hormone and recent research set out find if there is any truth in those claims.

    As part of a research project carried out by Siri Leknes, a research fellow at the Department of Psychology at the University of Oslo, 40 healthy students were administered nasal spray containing a dose of either saltwater or oxytocin. They were subsequently shown photographs of faces displaying angry, happy or neutral expressions. Some of the photos showed individuals displaying more “hidden” emotional expressions which tend to be picked up at a more subconscious level.  Mostly, the oxytocin intensified test subjects’ awareness of the emotions present in the photos.

    "Faces expressing anger stood out as angrier and less happy, and correspondingly, faces expressing happiness were happier,” says Leknes. “We know that people express feelings in other ways than through facial expression alone, for example, by means of body language and vocalisation. We presume that our findings also apply for these modes of expression.” 


    An instrument was used to measure dilation of the pupils and how test subjects focused their gaze while solving tasks on a computer screen in front of them. Photo: Olga Chelnokova

    There were two rounds to the experiment to ensure that all student subjects were tested using both salt water and oxytocin – without letting them know which dose they would be receiving each time.

    “It turns out that those with the lowest aptitude for judging emotional expression properly – that is, those with the poorest scores during the saltwater round – were the ones who showed the greatest improvement using oxytocin. This is really fascinating; the people who need it the most are thus the ones who get the most out of using the hormone,” said Leknes.


    So not mind reading as much as providing a boost to people who don't perceive emotion very well.

    Based on previous research , Leknes believes in oxytocin’s potential as a supplementary treatment for people suffering from mental health disorders or drug-dependency because, she says, nearly all mental health disorders involve a diminished ability to recognize the feelings of others. The same applies for drug abusers.

    “Oxytocin will not be a cure-all for mental illness or drug addiction, but it may be of use as a supplementary treatment. It may make individuals better equipped to interpret the signals of others around them, which may improve how they function in social settings,” Leknes explains.

    Oxytocin nasal spray is available via prescription and is relatively safe when used as directed. Side effects are extremely rare. Doctors are already allowed to prescribe oxytocin for the treatment of various problems associated with social functionality, such as autism. So next they want to examine how well oxytocin works as a supplementary treatment for drug abusers.

    “If it turns out that our assumptions are correct, then we may be able to come up with a simple treatment that would mean a great deal for people who find it difficult to pick up on the social cues of their peers,” says Leknes.

    Comments

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Very interesting psychological, scientific study, even though psychology is not a science.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Halliday
    Actually, Helen, it's practically impossible to determine how "scientific" this study is from this write-up:
    • While the study participants were not told whether they were being dosed with Oxytocin or "saltwater",  there is no indication whether the researchers were similarly "blind".
    • There's no indication of the size of the participant pool, the statistical significance of any variations noted, or any other statistical information.
    • What were the researcher's hypotheses going into these tests, besides "let's see what happens when ..."?
    • How reproducible in this experiment?
    • Will anyone else even attempt to reproduce this experiment, or will that be "forbidden" because "it has already been done"?
    • How well did the researchers control for all the variables they can control, and account for all other variables?  (The best experiment showing all that one must control to create a good rat-in-maze experiment has never been referenced by any subsequent rat-in-maze researchers!)
    Reproducibility, and actually attempting to reproduce others' experiments is a great gaping hole I and others see in the claims of "science" in fields like psychology.  Controlling experiments, especially animal experiments (where one should be more capable of exercising control), or even studying what is required to be so controlled in such cases, is another.

    I have much more to say on such matters, but am not prepared to do so, right now.

    David

    Gerhard Adam
    ...she says, nearly all mental health disorders involve a diminished ability to recognize the feelings of others. The same applies for drug abusers.
    This statement in itself makes one suspicious.  That's a pretty big leap without much evidence.  What mental health disorders are we talking and where's the evidence that it is based on an inability to recognize feelings in others?  How does this relate to drug abuse?

    After all, if the point is to propose oxytocin as a potential [at least partial] treatment, then one would presume a pretty definitive cause/effect relationship has been established.  Of course, addiction is now a disease, so I guess we have to cobble together explanations for how it manifests. 

    Like many psychological disorders, drug addiction and dependence depends on several things. Two main factors include:

    • Environment. Environmental factors, including your family's beliefs and attitudes and exposure to a peer group that encourages drug use, seem to play a role in initial drug use.
    • Genes. Once you've started using a drug, the development into addiction may be influenced by inherited traits.
    • http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/drug-addiction/ds00183/dsection=causes
    I guess one of the funniest things is this quote relating to how serial killers are probably suffering from a mental disorder:
    Are these killers really affected by a mental disorder...
    http://bdrum.com/Psych%205%20Group%20Project/index.htm
    Hmmm ... let's see ... they're serial killers.  Of course they suffer from a mental disorder.  But it is these kinds of amazing insights that render it more comical than scientific.
    Mundus vult decipi