Anyone catch the oxytocin “news” item on NPR on Monday? If not, read/listen here.
The short of it is this: certain kinds of hormones are released during certain bodily functions: giving birth, breastfeeding, and orgasm. It seems that the hormone is involved in feelings of trust, connection, intimacy. Now comes a couple of small studies that indicate these feelings are increased when given a nasal spray version of the hormone. And the study talked about in the NPR story suggests that autistic individuals given the spray preformed as well as non-autistic individuals at recognizing (understanding?) emotional expressions on the faces of individuals in pictures.
Maybe autistic individuals have a deficit of oxytocin. Let’s hope this research helps discover how to raise the level of the hormone by natural means. However, do a Google search on the term and you will see a host of websites promoting the value of the hormone as if it is already well understood. Others seem to be selling a product. One in particular is trying to suggest that someone might use it to get the girl or close a sales deal (by increasing their trust). How? “Here, could I squirt this substance of your nose?”
Better to take a wait and see effort for now rather than get everyone’s hopes up just yet. Let the researchers do their work to find out just how this hormone works before hyping it yet.
Sex hormones influence our mood and memory as well as a things like sexual desire. It is fairly clear that women with decreasing levels of estrogen (during their cycle or in perimenopause) have a higher propensity for depressed affect. It seems estrogen has an impact on the serotonergic receptors in the brain. Further, menopausal women suffering from low sexual desire report increased desire when given testosterone patches.
Clearly, our bodies are designed to function at their best with the right mix of hormones. But, given our fallen, less than perfect, bodies, men and women have to deal with mood, memory, and behavior challenges when hormones are “off.” This does not mean we are controlled by hormones and unable to function well if they are suboptimal. But, it does mean thinking and responding well may be more difficult.
Consider this hypothetical. A 15 year old challenges a 43 year old, out of shape, man to a game of one-on-one basketball. At that moment, testosterone fires through his body. He is more likely to accept that challenge and play beyond his conditioning so as to crush that 15 year old (to prove his male superiority to the 15 year old and to prove to himself he’s still got it, whatever it is.) in a best of 3 series. He gloats in victory only to cross the street and be unable to move for some time because he overextended himself and is experiencing severe ozygen deprivation.
How did testosterone work here? I don’t know but I’m looking for something to help me look less stupid 🙂