The investigation of the substances that make the company pleasant opens the door to social applications.
With the world on the brink of nuclear war, diplomacy manages to bring together the leaders of USA Y North Korea for one last desperate attempt at dialogue. While both men shake hands and challenge each other with their eyes, a substance, the oxytocin, is being pumped discreetly in the room. The atmosphere relaxes, the conversation turns to NBA that they are both passionate about and soon they are sharing anecdotes about their mutual friend, between laughter and slaps, Dennis Rodman.
This little political fiction digression serves to introduce the possibilities of the finding published in Science as described by the doctor’s team Robert Malenka from Stanford University School of Medicine. His goal was to unravel the evolutionary reward mechanism which answers a seemingly obvious question:Why is it so nice to be in the company of our friends?“. In pathological situations such as autism o la schizophrenia that enjoyment is absent, contributing to socialization difficulties.
The reward mechanism is, by definition, primitive. If the individual does something essential under normal circumstances for the preservation of the species (eat, sleep, procreate), it will release a pleasant neurotransmitter, the dopamine, in the corresponding region of the brain. Another substance involved in this process is the aforementioned oxytocin, which receives the beautiful name of “hormone of love” and adds a social level: we secrete it in contact with our children, for example, and a high blood level has been linked to monogamous tendencies.
Dopamine and oxytocin are the cocktail that explains why we find company pleasant beyond family ties and their biological imperatives. Stanford researchers managed to observe activity during social interactions of mice between the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, which produces oxytocin, and neurons of the ventral tegmental area stimulated by social interaction. If this pathway was interrupted, the rodents continued to generate dopamine by eating, but not by interacting with their peers.
Dr. Malenka’s team hopes that their discovery will open the door to treatments for neurological disorders involving social difficulties. But the specialist also offers this reflection, which has inspired the fiction that opens this article: “With so much hatred and anger in the world, what could be more important than understand the brain mechanisms that make us want to be friendly with other people?”.
“There is no panacea”
A Manuel Martin-Loeches, teacher of Psychobiology from the Complutense University of Madrid, the idea of spraying the most stubborn leaders on the planet with oxytocin to achieve world peace does not seem, at first, far-fetched. “Oxytocin generates dopamine, and that well-being will be associated with company. Yes Trump feels good and comfortable with Jong-un, he will undoubtedly be more friendly, more kind, more condescending -assures EL ESPAÑOL. “I think it would be a good remedy for many ills, although it has not been experimentally proven at these levels.”
Before we pick up the phone to call the UN, Martín-Loeches warns: in real life they intervene more complex factors and there is still room for research ahead. In 2014, the psychobiologist addressed the popularization of oxytocin sprays in an article in The Cultural, warning of “hypersensitization” phenomena in exposed subjects who ended up achieving the opposite objective, provoke new social interaction problems. Furthermore, the situations observed in the experiments could not be extrapolated to everyday life.
Thus, oxytocin sprays have begun to be used to complement therapies with autistic children, making them more receptive to interpersonal treatment. But in a ‘paralegal’ way you can buy drugs online that promise recreational uses of the hormone, from lower our inhibitions, getting let’s trust strangers more and increase our self esteem to “get into a state of dance [sic]” or “restablish and amplify sentimental and sexual fullness [sic]”.
“The propaganda is usually very exaggerated but not necessarily misleading” – values Martín-Loeches. “In general terms and on average, loxytocin does seem to help in these situations“. However, the psychobiologist warns against seeking in this hormone the “panacea” against shyness, depression or relationship problems. In addition, the initial blood values, different for each individual, will determine different results. “It’s a matter of trial and error, of controlling the base level at a given moment to say whether to proceed or not.”
And what do you think of the variants that are marketed for cats, promising that we will improve our relationship with the temperamental domestic cats? The effect would indeed be positive… “at least on the owner”. This phenomenon has been observed in children and in pets it would not be different: “SIf they capture an atmosphere of calm and satisfaction, they will be less stressed, and it can have the desired effect”.