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Oxytocin: The cuddly hormone makes men much more critical


Gender differences: Oxytocin makes men more critical
According to a new study, the “cuddly hormone” oxytocin can have very different effects on people. While women react more strongly to positive messages due to the influence of the hormone, men tend to follow critical statements with negative content.

Cuddle hormone with multiple effects
Oxytocin, also known as the "cuddly hormone", plays a major role in childbirth, since it triggers a contraction of the uterine muscles and initiates labor. It is also important for a strong bond between mother and child as well as for the mother's milk intake. It helps to cope with fears and also influences the behavior between partners and general social interactions by making them more bondable and soothing. But the hormone can do much more: Scientific studies have shown that ocytocin could help with muscle loss and anorexia. And it relieves pain, as researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg reported a few months ago. A team of researchers from Chengdu (China) with the participation of scientists from the University Hospital Bonn has now found that oxytocin can have very different effects on men and women.

Oxytocin increases sensitivity to social stimuli
The scientists recently published their results in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (PNAS). According to this, women react more strongly to positive messages through the influence of the hormone, while men tend to follow critical statements with negative content. Many effects are generally attributed to oxytocin: "Oxytocin generally increases sensitivity to social stimuli," explained Prof. Dr. René Hurlemann from the Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Bonn in a press release. The messenger substance also plays a major role for the first impression that new acquaintances leave. For example, if you meet new people at a party, the oxytocin can also help decide whether the previously unknowns become new business or even spouses.

Does the hormone have the same effect on women and men?
Scientists led by Prof. Keith M. Kendrick from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, together with Prof. Hurlemann, investigated whether the hormone works in the same way in women and men. They showed women and men photos of different people and objects, whereby statements were shown that either had a very positive, praising character or a very criticizing, negative content. The 80 study participants were then asked to provide information on whether they were sympathetic or disagreeable with the opinions expressed by the people shown in the photos.

Different effects on the sexes
According to the information, the subjects received either oxytocin via a nasal spray or a placebo. In the magnetic resonance tomograph, the scientists also observed brain activity, especially of the almond kernel (amygdala). As stated in the communication, this structure in the temporal lobes takes on the emotional evaluation of information that also plays a role in human interaction. It was shown that the activity of the amygdala under the influence of oxytocin was increased in all participants. "However, oxytocin had very different effects in terms of preference on the two sexes," says Prof. Hurlemann.

Women feel more comfortable than men in social groups
In women, the hormone significantly increased sympathy for people who were connected with praising statements. For men, on the other hand, oxytocin increased approval for photos that were associated with very critical opinions. "This is a surprising finding, the oxytocin otherwise has a very similar effect on women and men in many situations," said Prof. Hurlemann. According to the researchers' assumptions, two different gender-specific models come into play in these results, which have been discussed in science for a long time. Women tend to feel more comfortable in social groups and emphasize the positive aspects more strongly. Men, on the other hand, fear competition from their peers much more and therefore seem emotionally more negative. "This tendency seems to increase the oxytocin," said Prof. "Under the influence of the hormone, women do not feel threatened as quickly as men." (Ad)

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