Washington, Feb 10 : Hugs, touches and eye contacts with your loved one are not just romantic, they also induce a "love hormone" in the brain that may help patients with disorders like schizophrenia, social anxiety etc. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, studied this relationship between this love hormone called 'oxytocin' and a variety of disorders. According to Kai MacDonald, M.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSD, oxytocin is a brain chemical linked with pair bonding, including mother-infant and male-female bonds, increased paternal involvement with children, and monogamy in certain rodents.
However in the case of human beings, oxytocin is released during hugging and pleasant physical touch, and plays an important role in the human sexual response cycle. The researchers indicated that it also seemed to change the brain signals related to social recognition through facial expressions, perhaps by changing the firing of the amygdala, the part of the brain playing a pivotal role in the processing of important emotional stimuli. That's how; oxytocin in the brain may be a potent mediator of human social behavior.
"That's why oxytocin is sometimes called 'the love hormone. It's said that the eyes are the window to the soul...they certainly are the window to the emotional brain. We know that the eye-to-eye communication-which is affected by oxytocin-is critical to intimate emotional communication for all kind of emotions - love, fear, trust, anxiety,"'said MacDonald. He also added that people with schizophrenia or autism often avoid eye-to-eye gaze. Instead they focus on less relavent areas of the face, and avoid meaningful social contact. The researchers speculated that use of oxytocin might act on the brains of patients with schizophrenia and anxiety and may eventually increase the level of trust or emotional contact between patient and physician, or with patients and significant others.
Oxytocin, also known by its trade name, Pitocin, has been in use since long to induce labour and promote lactation in women. However its effects on the brain are just beginning to be understood. "Previously studies of healthy individuals have shown that intranasal doses of oxytocin reduce activation of brain circuits involved in fear, increase levels of eye contact, and increase both trust and generosity," MacDonald said. "Interestingly, people given oxytocin don't report feeling any different, but they act differently."
"A hug or a touch that causes a releases of this hormone might change brain signals. We want to know if oxytocin can also impact social and emotional behavior in patients with psychiatric disorders," he said.