Miracle "love drug" debunked

Researchers say oxytocin isn't the "all-purpose attachment panacea" some hoped it would be

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published November 30, 2010 6:01PM (EST)

Well, it looks like you won't be swinging by your local pharmacy to pick up a prescription for love any time soon. Much has been made about the potential for harnessing oxytocin as a "love drug" or relationship aid, but now researchers say the hormone isn't the "all-purpose attachment panacea" that it's been made out to be. Science! Always killing irrational hope for miracle cure-alls.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looks at how the so-called cuddle chemical -- which is released during labor and breast-feeding -- colors men's memories of their mothers. Before being given a quick hit of oxytocin, the participants were given a psychological evaluation of maternal attachment, or what I like to call "first-date cocktail conversation." You know, did you get enough hugs as child? Was Mom warm and present, or more of a cold and distance figure?

Lead researcher Jennifer Bartz tells Time magazine, "We found that for participants who were less anxious and more securely attached, it boosted or enhanced or reminded them of positive memories of maternal care and closeness. But for those who were more anxiously attached, it actually exacerbated those [negative] memories." In other words, oxytocin only amplified preexisting emotions toward mom; it didn't create warm and fuzzy feelings where there were none.

Seeing how influential maternal attachment can be on future relationships, I suppose this just underscores the profound unfairness of how early childhood experiences follow us into adulthood. Oxytocin may be a powerful bonding chemical, but it's no replacement for the real thing.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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