How the 'love hormone' affects your social interactions

accreditation
Cut out showing the pituitary gland
Cut out showing the pituitary gland
iStock

The so-called "love hormone" oxytocin may enhance social interactions by triggering production of a marijuana-like molecule in the brain, a new study in mice suggests.

This molecule, anandamide, activates certain receptors in brain cells, resulting in increased motivation and happiness, the researchers explained. THC the active ingredient in marijuana also activates these receptors.

Based on their results, University of California, Irvine, researchers theorise that manipulating the supply of anandamide sometimes called the "bliss hormone" might benefit people who have social challenges, including those with autism.

"Our findings open the exciting possibility that drugs that block the degradation of anandamide, which are currently being tested for various anxiety disorders, could give a boost to the brain's own oxytocin and help people with autism socialise more," study leader Daniele Piomelli said in a university news release.

Read: Oxytocin lessens anxiety in social situations

Previous research has linked oxytocin with behaviours that create bonds between people, including hugging, kissing, sex, birth and breast-feeding.

In this study, investigators measured levels of anandamide in the brains of mice that were either isolated or allowed to socialise. They found that social contact boosted production of anandamide, which triggered cannabinoid receptors to reinforce the pleasure of interaction.

When the receptors were blocked, this reinforcement vanished.

The researchers also found that stimulating brain cells that produce oxytocin led to increased production of anandamide, and that blocking anandamide's effects also blocked oxytocin's effects. This suggests that oxytocin reinforces social ties by triggering anandamide production.

In further experiments, the investigators found that preventing anandamide degradation increased the pleasure of social contact for mice.

Read more:

Oxytocin increases trust

Oxytocin could make us more accepting of others

Love hormone affects social connections

Image: Cut out of the brain showing the pituatry gland from iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Gauteng DA leader Solly Msimanga says the party's voters want it to explore conditional coalition talks with the ANC. 
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
It's a step in the right direction. An ANC-DA coalition would be the most stable option for SA
33% - 3093 votes
The DA should focus on working with all opposition parties, including the EFF, to unseat the ANC
14% - 1370 votes
The DA should rather remain in opposition than form a coalition with the ANC or the EFF
53% - 4999 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
17.08
+0.1%
Rand - Pound
20.65
+0.4%
Rand - Euro
17.89
-0.3%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.46
+0.7%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.6%
Gold
1,762.37
+0.2%
Silver
21.49
+0.2%
Palladium
1,857.53
+0.1%
Platinum
990.00
+0.6%
Brent Crude
83.63
-2.0%
Top 40
66,618
-0.2%
All Share
73,013
-0.2%
Resource 10
70,783
-0.9%
Industrial 25
87,595
+0.3%
Financial 15
16,330
-0.2%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE