Oxytocin Hype and Backlash
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Oxytocin Makes You Forget Who Hurt You


Baby Face
Originally uploaded by nep.

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience amplifies the "oxytocin keeps us trusting after betrayal" theme.

Predrag Petrovic, Raffael Kalisch, Tania Singer, and Raymond J. Dolan of the Wellcome Trust Functional Imaging Laboratory in London found that sniffing oxytocin eliminated a conditioned negative response to a person's face. According to their unsexily named Oxytocin Attenuates Affective Evaluations of Conditioned Faces and Amygdala Activity,"

Using a standard conditioning procedure, we induced differential negative affective ratings in faces exposed to an aversive conditioning compared with nonconditioning manipulation. This differential negative evaluative effect was abolished by treatment with oxytocin, an effect associated with an attenuation of activity in anterior medial temporal and anterior cingulate cortices.


They found that the reduced activity in the amygdala was more pronounced when subjects looked at photos of people looking directly at the camera, and less when the person in the photo was looking to the side. Oxytocin has been shown to reduce the activity of the amygdala, which seems to make snap decisions about whom to trust.

This points to making eye contact as a social signal that it's a situation in which it's appropriate to trust, they say. If so, it explains why people who are good at connecting with others -- as well as scammy people -- make immediate eye contact, and also why we tend to feel negatively toward those who don't meet our eyes.

It could also help explain the mechanism by which we learn the oxytocin response as the person who mothers us gazes into our faces as babies.

NB: This study didn't set off a news frenzy similar to May's "betrayal study," led by Thomas Baumgartner at the University of Zurich, in which people played a game in which they exchange money. It actually seems a bit more exciting, because it deals with faces. Are we experiencing an oxytocin backlash?

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