Ever heard of oxytocin? The name of this hormone may not sound warm and fuzzy, but it can have some sweet effects according to research done by scientists at Duke University. In a recent study, macaques were exposed to oxytocin using a child-sized nebulizer and then given a choice that involved a serving of fruit juice. By pointing at symbols, a monkey could tell researchers to give the juice to itself, to give the juice to a macaque seated next to it, or to give out no juice at all.
Monkeys who had inhaled the oxytocin were more likely to give the juice to their neighbors than monkeys who had not been exposed to the hormone. Michael Platt, who headed the study, speculated that one of the effects of the drug is the increased ability to pay attention to other individuals. “If that’s true,” he said, “it’s really cool because it suggests that oxytocin breaks down normal social barriers.”
Scientists are looking into whether the hormone might help people with autism and other disorders that can interfere with the ability to feel and express empathy.
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