Clinical trials are testing whether oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone” for its role in intimacy and social bonding, has potential as a treatment for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. New research by behavioral neuroscientists Michael Steinman, Brian Trainor and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, suggests oxytocin may have different effects in men and women–and in certain circumstances the hormone may actually trigger anxiety.

In a series of experiments at the UC Davis Department of Psychology, the team administered doses of oxytocin with a nasal spray to male and female mice. Some of the mice were bullied by an aggressive mouse, an experience that reduces motivation to associate with unfamiliar mice. Consistent with previous studies, oxytocin increased the motivation for social interaction in stressed males.

However, in stressed females, oxytocin had no effect. When non-stressed females received oxytocin, social motivation was reduced. This effect of oxytocin is similar to the effect of social stress.

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