A Boy and His Dog
It's well-known that oxytocin levels rise in animals hanging out with their animal buds. But what happens to humans who hang out with man's best friend? To find out, Japanese researchers compared oxytocin levels in two groups of dog owners. The control group was told not to engage with or look at their dogs much for 30 minutes. The test group was told to enjoy a half-hour playing with and exchanging gazes with Spot. Urine samples (of the humans) were collected before and after each period. The urine of the test group had significantly higher levels of oxytocin. Conclusion? Give your dog some love.
At Indiana University in Bloomington, scientists injected a bunch of zebra finches with drugs that blocked an oxytocin-like molecule called mesotocin, whose receptors are located in a part of the brain called the lateral septum. Compared to a control group of uninjected birds, the meso-depleted finches spent less time with familiar fowl. The lead author of the study, James Goodson, wonders if this might mean that party animals have more receptors in the lateral septum than the average bear.
The Green Monster
Oxytocin can amplify some negative emotions, too. One study compared the feelings of an oxy-fueled group that competed with a computer for money with those of a group that received a placebo. The group that had inhaled oxytocin were jealous of the computer when it won more money than they did, and gloated when they kicked its plastic butt.
Making Men More Likable
Shown a series of heart-wrenching photos, two groups of men then described their feelings. The dudes who got an aerosol oxytocin boost (like the ones I got in the charity test) were considerably more empathic than the ones who didn't. Hugh Grant, consider yourself cloned.
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.