The wonder hormone that a recent study said might stop men from cheating could also make them more engaged fathers, according to new research.
Oxytocin has been variously labelled as the “cuddle hormone,” the “love hormone” and the “trust hormone” in recent years.
Last month, it once again made headlines because of a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience that suggested getting men to stop cheating on their significant others might be as simple as getting them to take a whiff of the hormone. In that study, men exposed to oxytocin stayed farther away from an attractive woman than men who were not exposed to the hormone.
The lead researcher explained the study’s findings by pointing out that women produce oxytocin during orgasm.
“What we actually simulate is a kind of postcoital posture,” Dr. Rene Hurlemann told the Los Angeles Times. “And why should you actually approach another woman when you’re in a postcoital situation? It doesn’t make much sense.”
The drug is also produced in the early stages of relationships, which has prompted a new study highlighting oxytocin’s effects on how men behave with their children.
Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel looked at 35 fathers and their five-month-old children who were observed twice, once after the dads received oxytocin through a nasal spray and again follow the administration of a placebo. The salivary oxytocin levels of both the fathers and children were measured before the men received the drug as well as several times afterward.
Exposure to oxytocin made men more attentive and engaged, researchers said.
“We found that after oxytocin administration, fathers’ salivary oxytocin rose dramatically, more than tenfold, but moreover, similar increases were found in the infants’ oxytocin. In the oxytocin conditions, key parenting behaviour, including father touch and social reciprocity, increased but infant social behaviour, including social gaze and exploratory behaviour, increased as well,” Dr. Ruth Feldman, who led the study, said in a release.
The study is published in the current issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry.
“We should not be surprised that social bonding in male parents is affected by many of the same biological mechanisms that have been identified for females,” Dr. John Krystal, the journal’s editor, said in the release. “The question arising from this study is whether there is a way to harness the power of oxytocin to promote paternal engagement with their infants in families where this is a problem.”