Oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding between romantic partners and mothers and their children, has been found to also influence feelings of well-being and sensitivity to advertising.
The present research found that participants were more empathetic toward public service announcements after exposure to oxytocin. They were also more likely to donate to the advertised causes.
In general, higher levels of oxytocin are associated with greater happiness and empathy. Causality is still lacking in existing research: it is unclear whether oxytocin makes people happy, or whether happier people have more oxytocin.
The `cuddle hormone', as it has been termed, may also relieve stress and anxiety in social settings. In animal experiment, oxytocin reduced anxiety in stressed animals, but only if recovery occurred in the presence of a friend. This suggests that social contact may be a key factor in the hormone's ability to reduce stress.
Researchers further speculated that it may produce effects in new mothers that are more rewarding than cocaine. In the presence of their newborns, female rats' brains did not respond to learned cues associated with addictive drugs.
The findings, which were presented in at `Neuroscience 2010', the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, suggest that oxytocin is no longer just the `cuddle hormone'.