Unmasked: the elixir of human bonding

Hormone that makes mothers and babies bond also helps us to remember strangers' faces, study finds

It is said to be a love hormone that helps breastfeeding mothers to bond with their babies, as well as a "trust serum" secreted in the brain to inspire confidence in anyone from a lover to a business partner.

Now scientists have found the first experimental evidence to show that the hormone oxytocin plays an important role in helping us to remember the face of a stranger, a feat critical for maintaining the cohesion of society.

A study has found that men who sniffed a nasal spray containing oxytocin perform significantly better on a facial memory test where they have to recognise the faces of strangers a day after they had inhaled the hormone.

Scientists believe the findings provide strong support for the idea that oxytocin acts as a ubiquitous chemical glue within the brain to cement the personal relationships that are critical for the peaceful co-existence of individuals living within a social group.

The results will no doubt attract the attention of companies ranging from perfume manufacturers keen to develop the ultimate elixir of love, to marketing organisations hoping to spray department stores with trust-inducing scents to revive flagging consumers with feel-good factors. Oxytocin is secreted in the brain during lovemaking and is believed to play a key role in strengthening monogamous bonding of males and females, but until now no one has shown that it can improve the ability of the brain to remember faces.

The scientists found the inhalation of oxytocin only stimulated the part of the memory system tasked with recollecting faces, without affecting the system for remembering objects. "This is the first study to show oxytocin improves recognition for faces, but not for non-social stimuli," said Peter Klaver of the University of Zurich, who took part in the study published today in The Journal of Neuroscience. "Recognising a familiar face is a crucial feature of successful social interaction. In this study, we investigated the systematic effect of oxytocin on social memory in humans."

A group of 44 male volunteers were split in two, with each team asked either to sniff oxytocin, or a harmless nasal spray, three times in each nostril over a period of two minutes. A day later they were asked to identify faces they had seen briefly the day before.

Those given oxytocin correctly identified 46 per cent of faces, while those taking the placebo managed 36 per cent. The 10 per cent improvement was statistically significant, Dr Klaver said: "It shows that human memory for faces can be improved by oxytocin."

Oxytocin is a small molecule called a peptide. It is released by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and is found within the brain and other selected sites of the body – such as the nipples of lactating women.

The latest findings support the idea that oxytocin is critical component of the system that stimulates the recognition, thereby the trust, of strangers. "Some suggest oxytocin could be used to improve trust in communities, but the mechanism of how it works may be too specific for this," Dr Klaver said.

Explainer: Oxytocin

Oxytocin is produced in the brain as well as being released by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. It enters the bloodstream and affects other parts of the body, such as the nipples of lactating women, where it induces the release of milk. Many parts of the brain are affected by it, including the amygdala, which is involved in emotions such as fear and sexual behaviour. The hormone was isolated in 1953 and given to women to induce labour. It is released into the blood of both sexes during orgasm.

Life and Style
life
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
news
Environment
Fungi pose the biggest threat globally and in the UK, where they threaten the country’s wheat and potato harvests
environmentCrop pests are 'grave threat to global food security'
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Primary supply teachers needed in Bury St Edmunds

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers requi...

English Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Secondary English Teacher - requ...

Science Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Calling all science teachers! Ra...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone