Lack of empathy may be caused by low oxytcin

Crystal structure of the neurophysin-oxytocin complex – Google free image
Crystal structure of the neurophysin-oxytocin complex – Google free image

People with low levels of the so-called "love hormone" oxytocin may have less empathy for others, a new study suggests.

Stored in the pituitary gland

The findings hint that oxytocin replacement therapy could improve the well-being of people with low levels of the hormone, said the researchers at the University of Cardiff in Wales.

Their study included 20 people with medical conditions that cause low levels of oxytocin and a control group of 20 healthy people. Those with low oxytocin levels did much worse on tests of empathy – awareness of other people's feelings.

Read: Oxytocin increases trust

The study was to be presented at the Society for Endocrinology's annual meeting in Brighton, England.

"This is the first study which looks at low oxytocin as a result of medical, as opposed to psychological, disorders. If replicated, the results from our patient groups suggest it is also important to consider medical conditions carrying a risk of low oxytocin levels," lead researcher Katie Daughters said in a society news release.

Oxytocin is stored in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ in the base of the skull. People who have had pituitary surgery may be potential candidates for oxytocin replacement, the researchers suggested.

These are only preliminary results. Further research and peer-review are needed to confirm the findings.

Read more:

Oxytocin lessens anxiety in social situations

'Love hormone' improves kids' social skills

Love hormone affects social connections

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