Oxytocin and pro-social behaviour

The latest research on oxytocin has found that the love hormone does more than just develop bonding and build trust, it also appears to flatten group hierarchy.

In a study published by Scientific Reports, dominant male rhesus macaques became a lot more relaxed whilst subordinate macaques became a lot more confident after inhaling oxytocin and vasopressin.

The researchers noticed that the monkeys synchronized facial expressions and behaviours much more tightly and the increased attention helped them respond to each other at a faster rate.

The experiment involved giving one macaque oxytocin, vasopressin or saline via inhalation then pairing him with 6 different monkeys and once with an empty chair. The monkeys who were in the middle of the hierarchy stayed there, the lower-ranking monkeys became more assertive, the dominant monkeys were still dominant but displayed a more relaxed attitude and were less likely to pick a fight.

Macaques offer a valuable comparison to humans because the animals model many of the same social behaviours, they form long-term social bonds and live in large groups. The results of this experiment could have remarkable implications for society and for those struggling with social-emotional disorders.

It’s interesting to note that basic, naturally, occurring oxytocin levels are near zero without some sort of stimulus. In humans it can be harnessed by chatting to friends, hugging a pet, listening to relaxing music or undergoing hypnosis.

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