Oxytocin nasal sprays do not improve the recognition of emotions such as anger and sadness in healthy men. The corresponding study was published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Some studies have suggested that intranasally-administered oxytocin can increase a person’s willingness to accept social risks in interpersonal interactions and to cooperate. A study also found that it improves emotion recognition in young people who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
In the current study, researchers sought to see whether intranasal oxytocin can improve healthy people’s ability to recognize emotions, as those who struggle to recognize emotions are at an increased risk of developing poor mental health.
For their study, they recruited 104 men at an average age of 19 who were randomized to receive either intranasal oxytocin, a placebo, an accredited emotional training program, or a mock training program. The participants were then shown faces that had been morphed to display different levels of emotion.
In the end, the researchers found that while emotion training helped men identify angry and sad faces, oxytocin had no effect.
“Many of us are interested in the potential oxytocin has to improve the social lives of individuals, however, if other methods are found to be as effective, or better, then we need to be open to these as well,” said Dr. Katie Daughters, Lecturer at the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex.
“Our current understanding of how oxytocin sprays work suggests that, in their current form, it may not be a practical solution. In particular, the beneficial effects of oxytocin that we want to bolster only last for several hours,” she added.
The researchers noted that further research is now warranted to test oxytocin on women and those who live with psychological disorders.