Researchers under the leadership of the University of Bonn studied whether this distance can be diminished by the so-called love hormone, oxytocin. The exact opposite turned out to be true – men who were in a committed relationship even maintained a greater distance from an attractive woman when under the influence of oxytocin than their control group. The study has just been published in the renowned "Journal of Neuroscience."
When people approach each other, unconscious rules are at work. They will walk towards each other and will then talk while remaining at a very distinct distance, called "social distance" by scholars. "When they are approached beyond a certain distance, participants in a con-versation feel uncomfortable," said René Hurle¬mann, head of the research group that conducted the study at the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Bonn. A very sensitive case of social distance is the one between a woman and a man when flirting. "The magic of the initial encounter often decides what it will turn into," says Dr. Hurlemann.
Major releases of oxytocin during sex and at childbirth
Together with colleagues from the Universities of Bochum and Chengdu, his team studied the effect oxytocin, a neuro¬peptide, has on the social distance between women and men. "This neurotransmitter is often called the 'love hormone,' reports Professor Wolfgang Maier, Director of the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Bonn, who also performs research for the German research center of neurodegenerative diseases (DZNE). It has long been known that the release of oxytocin in the brain is particularly strong during sex, or in parents, after the birth of their child. "This hormone contributes to strong social attachment," adds Prof. Maier.
Researchers applied the hormone as a nasal spray
The researchers gave a total of 57 adult male subjects either oxytocin or a placebo in the form of a nasal spray. The experiment was conducted using an attractive female researcher as the experimenter. The subjects approached her and remained standing in front of her at a distance of about 60 centimeters. "We wanted to find out whether the social distance can be influenced by means of the hormone," report researchers Dirk Scheele and Dr. Nadine Striepens. They hypothesized that oxytocin would result in a diminished social distance in the subjects because this substance is reputed to promote social relationships. To their surprise, the exact opposite happened – the male test subjects who had received oxytocin as a nasal spray and were in a relationship with a woman kept a greater distance from the attractive female researcher than subjects who were single or came from the control group who did not receive the hormone.
Oxytocin acts as a kind of "fidelity hormone"
"Here, oxytocin acted as a kind of 'fidelity hormone,' Dr. Hurlemann sums up the results. Men with female partners increased the distance. Single men and control subjects who had not received oxytocin, however, were more exposed to the sexual attractiveness of the experimenter. An additional experiment yielded quite similar results. The researchers showed the subjects photos of attractive women. The test subjects had an option to zoom in on the images – i.e., to approach them more closely. When administered oxytocin, men in a relationship did this more slowly than single men.
The hormone increases the chances of survival
"This provided us with important insights into what makes men tick," Dr. Hurlemann sums it up. Oxytocin had a key role in Nature's mechanism for ensuring that both parents fully focus on their vulnerable offspring. "The fidelity hormone kept men from immediately turning to another woman, after impregnating the partner, which increased the chances of survival for human offspring in pre-civilization times."
Publication: Oxytocin Modulates Social Distance between Males and Females, The Journal of Neuroscience, DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2755-12.2012
René Hurlemann, MSc MD PhD
Attending psychiatrist and head of the Neuromodulation of Emotion (NEMO) Research Group
Department of Psychiatry of the University of Bonn
Ph: +49 228/28 71 50 57
More articles from Life Sciences:
Molecular snapshot of the plant immune system’s signal box
11.12.2013 | Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Köln
Successful Teamwork: Unusual fungal metabolites with antitumor activity discovered by crowdsourcing
11.12.2013 | Angewandte Chemie International Edition
The molecular architecture of three key proteins and their complexes reveals how plants fine-tune their immune response to pathogens
Plants rarely get sick in their natural environment. When the threat of infection arises, a quick decision is made about the necessary countermeasures. The course is set by a protein which forms complexes with its partner proteins for this purpose.
Jane Parker from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding ...
Researchers studying speciation of butterfly orchids on the Azores have been startled to discover that the answer to a long-debated question "Do the islands support one species or two species?" is actually "three species".
Hochstetter's Butterfly-orchid, newly recognized following application of a battery of scientific techniques and reveling in a complex taxonomic history worthy of Sherlock Holmes, is arguably Europe's rarest orchid species. Under threat in its mountain-top retreat, the orchid urgently requires conservation recognition.
A lavishly illustrated publication, titled "Systematic revision of Platanthera in ...
Researchers from Brown University and the University of Hawaii have found some mineralogical surprises in the Moon's largest impact crater.
Data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that flew aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter shows a diverse mineralogy in the subsurface of the giant South Pole Aitken basin.
The differing mineral signatures could be reflective of the minerals dredged up at the time of the giant impact 4 billion years ago, ...
In power electronics systems bonded connections create the central electrical connections between adjoining surfaces.
The quality of these bonded connections is one of the main factors that determines the reliability and availability of drive systems in electric vehicles, and hence constitutes a major design challenge for German auto manufacturers aiming to electrify their vehicles.
Now the partners participating in the RoBE (Robust Bonds in ...
International team of scientists develops new feedback method for optimizing the laser pulse shapes used in the control of chemical reactions
In many ways, traditional chemical synthesis is similar to cooking. To alter the final product, you can change the ingredients or their ratio, change the method of mixing ingredients, or change the temperature or pressure of the environment of the ingredients.
Like an accomplished chef, chemists have become very skilled ...
11.12.2013 | Information Technology
11.12.2013 | Life Sciences
11.12.2013 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
11.12.2013 | Event News
10.12.2013 | Event News
05.12.2013 | Event News