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Oxytocin: The Key to Fidelity

The famous poet, Oscar Wilde, once said: “Those who are faithless know the pleasures of love; it is the faithful who know love’s tragedies.” Perhaps Oscar was referring to the emotional torment felt by those on the receiving end of infidelity. Or perhaps he was referring to the temptation all too often experienced by men – and women – to cheat on a partner. Either way, infidelity is without a doubt the most difficult problem any couple can face, for both the faithful and the faithless partner. Surely if there was a drug that could cure people from the temptations of infidelity, it would be flying off the pharmacy shelves? Well, it appears there might be.

“Social distance” is what can prevent people from cheating. It is the unwritten physical distance that people keep between them when they communicate. Communication within this distance is the point at which people start to feel uncomfortable. One set of circumstances that really tests the boundaries of social distance is when two people flirt. When these people give in to temptation, that social distance is broken down.

It was initially thought that oxytocin, a substance that encourages social relationships, would be able to break down that distance. Researchers at the University of Bonn recently decided to put this theory to the test. Oxytocin has long been nick-named the “love hormone”, so researchers at the institute thought that the substance would diminish any desire to maintain social distance.

Oxytocin increases social distance

In fact, the results of the study showed quite the opposite to what the academics had expected. The study was conducted using 57 male subjects. They were given either a dose of oxytocin or a placebo in the form of a nasal spray. The study then used an “attractive” female as an “experimenter”.  Each of the subjects approached the woman and stood in front of her with a physical distance between them of approximately 60 centimeters. The researchers then wanted to see if this distance would decrease in those that had taken the oxytocin spray. “We wanted to find out whether the social distance can be influenced by means of the hormone,” said report researchers Dirk Scheele and Dr. Nadine Striepens.

Oxytocin, which is widely thought to encourage social relationships, was expected to encourage men to lessen the social distance between themselves and the female experimenter. However, the men that had received the oxytocin dosage and were in a serious relationship maintained a greater distance from the woman than those men that were single or those that took the placebo.

“Fidelity hormone”

It was clear from the comparison between the men in a relationship in both the oxytocin and the placebo groups that the former exhibited greater signs of fidelity.  “Here, oxytocin acted as a kind of ‘fidelity hormone,’ said Dr. René Hurlemann, head of the research group at the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Bonn.

To test the robustness of the findings, a second study was conducted. The subjects were showed a series of photographs of attractive women. Each man was then given the option to have a closer look at the images. Again, the group was given oxytocin and those in a relationship were shown to have a slower reaction when zooming in on the images than those men that were single.

Dr. Hurlemann went on to conclude that oxytocin is an essential tool in the survival of the human race; “The fidelity hormone kept men from immediately turning to another woman, after impregnating the partner, which increased the chances of survival for human offspring in pre-civilization times.”

Numerous other health benefits

The infidelity research is one in a long line of studies confirming the various benefits of taking oxytocin. One of the other benefits of the hormone is its use as an anti-smoking aid. Those people who are trying to establish how to stop smoking need look no further; oxytocin has been found to have the same comforting traits as nicotine. Scientists believe that, when administered as a nasal spray, oxytocin may therefore be a suitable substitute for nicotine. Its anti-addiction capabilities make oxytocin an exciting prospect; it appears that the “love hormone” has many uses for those people trying to stay away from all sorts of temptations – from smoking to cheating.

By Christine Redpath

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