Researchers are finding that a hormone in the body believed to help people form emotional bonds with each other may work to treat people with schizophrenia, autism and certain other psychiatric disorders related to social interaction.
A number of small scientific studies have been published recently suggesting that puffs of oxytocin into the nose may reduce some symptoms in people with these disorders and improve their ability to function. In particular, the hormone seemed to enhance patients’ abilities to recognize others’ emotions, which is a crucial step in improving social interactions.
Oxytocin, produced both by men and women, is nicknamed the “love hormone” because of its apparent role in building trust between people. Women, for instance produce large amounts of oxytocin during labor preceding childbirth, presumably to foster bonding with the newborn.
The hormone works by helping neurons in the brain talk to each other, although the exact mechanism isn’t understood. Researchers suggest it may increase a person’s attention to social information in the environment, make social interactions more rewarding or reduce anxiety in those situations. When sprayed in the nose, oxytocin is thought to travel along a pathway to reach the brain….
By SHIRLEY S. WANG