The love hormone oxytocin has long been known for promoting the feelings of love, social well-being and social interaction, but it actually turns out that the hormone is double-faced. The study at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine reveals that the hormone can also cause emotional pain – a newly emerged nature for the hormone.

Study shows love hormone oxytocin emotionally haunts you
Structure of love hormone oxytocin | Distributed under Creative Commons Licence [Public Domain]
The scientists discovered that oxytocin appears to be the reason of stressful social situations, perhaps being hectored or tormented, reverberate long past the event and can trigger fear and anxiety in the future. That’s because the hormone actually strengthens social memory in one specific region of the brain.

If you are apprehensive about your social experience, the hormone intensifies the tendency to feel easily agitated and fearful, it can give you an anxiety attack.

This research was actually done in mice because oxytocin is being tested as an anti-anxiety drug in several clinical trials. And the experiment disclosed that – 1) the hormone is essential for strengthening the memory of negative social interactions and 2) it increases fear and anxiety in future stressful situations.

“By understanding the oxytocin system’s dual role in triggering or reducing anxiety, depending on the social context, we can optimize oxytocin treatments that improve well-being instead of triggering negative reactions,” said Jelena Radulovic, the senior author of the study. Also, the hormone strengthens negative social memory and future anxiety by triggering an important signaling molecule called extracellular signal regulated kinase (ERK) that becomes activated for 6 hours after a negative social experience.

“This is important because the variability of oxytocin receptors in different species is huge,” Radulovic said. “We wanted the research to be relevant for humans, too.”

Read Fear-enhancing effects of septal oxytocin receptors.