06/28/2013 08:45 am ET

Oxytocin Boosts 'Tend And Befriend' Tendencies After Social Rejection, Study Finds


Rejection hurts, and scientists have found that the "feel good" hormone oxytocin makes people more likely to turn to others for comfort after a socially stressful event.

Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the small new study from researchers at Concordia University's Centre for Research in Human Development shows that exposing people to oxytocin after an incident of social rejection makes them more likely to turn to others -- what researchers called "tend and befriend" mode -- instead of going into "fight or flight" mode.

"In distressed people, oxytocin may improve
one's motivation to reach out to others for support. That idea is cause for a certain degree of excitement, both in the research community and for those who suffer from mood disorders," study researcher Christopher Cardoso said in a statement.

For the study, researchers had 100 students receive a nasal spray of either oxytocin or a placebo. The student participants also underwent personality tests to see which ones of them were more emotionally affected by social rejection.

Then, some researchers posing as students put the participants under social distress by purposely ignoring them, interrupting them or disagreeing with them. Researchers found that student participants emotionally affected by social rejection were more likely to have greater trust in others after the social rejection incident if they were given the oxytocin than if they were given the placebo.

Researchers noted that this finding could be especially useful in treating mental conditions like depression, which is tied to emotional distress and is known for spurring feelings of withdrawal instead of feelings of wanting to reach out for help from others.

Oxytocin may also have benefits beyond boosting social trust -- a study in the journal Biological Psychiatry showed that oxytocin could lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in quarreling couples.



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