SCIENTISTS have discovered a so-called love hormone that acts as a social enhancer can also cause cause aggression.
A recent study has shown that the oxytocin hormone, which was thought to enhance romantic relationships, can also have a negative behavioural affect.
Sellers and businesses have manufactured sprays of the hormone on the basis that it can improve couple’s sex lives and boost romantic relationships.
But a new study published in the scientific journal Neuron has suggested the hormone can cause more complex behaviours.
Weizmann Institute of Science researches say that boosting oxytocin could have a potential “dark side”.
The study says that in addition to promoting empathy and generosity, oxytocin can lead to feelings of envy and unfriendly behaviour towards strangers, making it a “double-edged sword”.
Sergey Anpilov, Noa Eren and staff scientist Dr Yair Shemesh spent a week monitoring 44 mice in a social experiment which saw the rodents compete for food.
The scientists were able to manipulate oxytocin levels of the mice to see how the results might differ.
The researchers discovered that mice who weren’t given oxytocin boosts maintained relatively constant behaviours while those who weren’t given the love-hormone began to show behavioural changes.
They discovered that the effect of the hormone depended on the setting, as in a semi-natural setting the mice with boosted levels of oxytocin would eventualy exhibit aggressive behaviour.
Mr Anpilov told the Jerusalem Post: “In an all-male, natural social setting, we would expect to see belligerent behaviour as they compete for territory or food.
“That is, the social conditions are conducive to competition and aggression. In the standard lab setup, a different social situation leads to a different effect for the oxytocin.”
He suggested that the hormone may not directly be associated to love, but a hormone that causes people and animals to have more intense responses to a situation, no matter what it is.
He said: “Oxytocin doesn’t take you in a specific direction, the direction it takes you in depends on the social situation.”
The scientists warned a more complex and nuanced view needed to be taken into account when boosting oxytocin levels.
“Oxytocin is involved, as previous experiments have shown, in such social behaviors as making eye contact or feelings of closeness,” said Eren.
“But our work shows it does not improve sociability across the board. Its effects depend on both context and personality.”