Oxytocin, the naturally occuring human hormone linked to bonding with a newborn and romantic partner, could also help improve mood after rejection, a laboratory study suggests.
When scientists in Montreal gave 100 students either oxytocin or a placebo through a nose spray and then tried to snub them in a conversation, feelings of trust were higher in the hormone group.
But the hormone had no effect among those who weren't emotionally charged up by the social rejection of having researchers posing as students disagree, interrupt or ignore them.
"Instead of the traditional 'fight or flight' response to social conflict where people get revved up to respond to a challenge or run away from it, oxytocin may promote the 'tend and befriend' response where people reach out to others for support after a stressful event. That can, in turn, strengthen social bonds and may be a healthier way to cope," study author Mark Ellenbogen said in a release.
For a decade, researchers have speculated that oxytocin, known as the love hormone, motivates people to seek out social support to respond to challenges and blunt the negative hit of stress.
Ellenbogen's team said its study offers the first experimental support of the idea that oxytocin motivates us to strengthen social bonds during times of distress.
"Oxytocin may have important clinical benefits for those who are acutely distressed, which is consistent with a number of studies showing more pronounced effects of the neuropeptide in vulnerable populations."
During the experiment, the participants and researchers did not know who was given the real hormone.
The Montreal participants also filled out mood and personality questionnaires.
Next, the researchers hope to study the effects of oxytocin in mood disorders.
Giving oxytocin spray has also been proposed to spare people the pain of a break-up by helping couples maintain their relationships.
The study was published last month in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
It was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.