[If you cannot see the flash video below, you can click here for a high quality mp4 video.]
Interviewee: Ulrike Rimmele, New York University
Love me, take care of me, remember me
Scientists and physicians know some of the roles of the hormone oxytocin in people. In women, it triggers childbirth and also allows them to breast feed their babies. Research has also shown that oxytocin via nasal spray can increase people’s generosity and trust. And extensive studies in mice show that oxytocin is important in bonding between parents (including father mice) and their offspring. It also helps mice recognize each other, which is a type of “social memory.” Mice that lacked the hormone exhibited problems with social memory while other kinds of memory remained intact.
Also on ScienCentral
It was this base of knowledge that led neuroscientist Ulrike Rimmele
and colleagues at University of Zurich to study whether oxytocin also affects social memory in people. Rimmele, who now works at New York University, asked 41 healthy male volunteers to inhale a nasal spray containing either oxytocin or a placebo. She waited 40 minutes to allow oxytocin to reach high concentrations in the brain. Then the volunteers were shown images on a monitor. Eighty-four faces and eighty-four nonsocial stimuli, such as houses and landscapes, flashed across the screen for just 3.5 seconds each.
The next day, when the volunteers came for their second visit, the researchers gave them a surprise recognition test. This time they were shown both the previous day’s images as well as images they had never seen before. The volunteers were asked to indicate whether they had seen the images before.
As Rimmele wrote in “The Journal of Neuroscience,” volunteers who had inhaled oxytocin did a better job of remembering the faces but were no better at remembering the inanimate objects.
“This is the first time that a hormone has been shown to help people recognize other people’s faces,” explains Rimmele.
The results suggest that oxytocin selectively and immediately enhances brain pathways for social memory. Rimmele says that finding out how the hormone acts at the basic level of face recognition could lead to a better understanding of its role in more complex social interactions, including human relationships. Her colleagues in Zurich are conducting clinical studies to find out whether the hormone can help those with autism or with social phobias. Other researchers are also looking into its possible role in romantic relationships.
Rimmele says that oxytocin levels vary among people, and speculates that may be why some are better than others at recalling people they have seen before.
PUBLICATION: The Journal of Neuroscience, January 7, 2009
AUTHORS: Ulrike Rimmele, Karin Hediger, Markus Heinrichs, and Peter Klaver
RESEARCH FUNDED BY: University of Zurich Young Investigator Research
grants and the Swiss National Science Foundation
Share on Facebook |
Tweet This |