Oxytocin is often referred to as the 'love hormone' due to its role
in human behaviors including sexual arousal, recognition, trust,
anxiety and mother-infant bonding. It is produced by the hypothalamus -
an area of the brain that controls mood and appetite - and stored in the
pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ that sits in the base of the skull.
People suffering medical conditions causing low levels of oxytocin
perform worse on empathy tasks, revealed a new research presented
today at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Brighton.
The research is the first to study humans with reduced oxytocin and
suggests that hormone replacement could improve the psychological
well-being of those living with low levels.
‘People suffering medical conditions causing low levels of oxytocin perform worse on empathy tasks, revealed a new research.’
Researchers from the University of Cardiff investigated empathic
behaviour in people who they suspected of having reduced oxytocin levels
due to one of two medical conditions caused in response to pituitary
The study assessed 20 people with cranial diabetes insipidus (CDI).
In CDI, the body has reduced levels of ADH - a chemical also produced in
the hypothalamus and structurally very similar to oxytocin. They also
assessed 15 people with hypopituitarism (HP), a condition in which the
pituitary gland does not release enough hormones. These two patient
groups were compared to a group of 20 healthy controls.
The researchers gave all participants two tasks designed to test
empathy, both relating to the recognition of emotional expression. They
also measured each group's oxytocin levels and found that the 35 CDI and
HP participants had slightly lower oxytocin compared to the healthy
controls, though a larger sample is required to establish statistical
significance. They also saw that the CDI and HP groups performed
significantly worse on empathy tasks, compared to controls. In
particular, CDI participants' ability to identify expressions was
predicted by their oxytocin levels - those with the lowest levels of
oxytocin produced the worst performances.
"This is the first study which looks at low oxytocin as a result of
medical, as opposed to psychological, disorders," said Katie Daughters,
lead researcher. "If replicated, the results from our patient groups
suggest it is also important to consider medical conditions carrying a
risk of low oxytocin levels."
"Patients who have undergone pituitary surgery, and in particular
those who have acquired CDI as a consequence, may present with lower
oxytocin levels. This could impact on their emotional behavio5r, and in
turn affect their psychological well-being. Perhaps we should be
considering the introduction of oxytocin level checks in these cases."
The researchers hope to expand their study in order to further
replicate and confirm their findings. This study presents only
preliminary results, and it has not been peer reviewed.