Nose Spray Gives Men Feelings

Researchers have found that a nose spray containing the hormone oxytocin increases men's feelings of empathy and even helps them learn. Cue the gender stereotypes!

According to the BBC's Emma Wilkinson, scientists at Cambridge had men huff the so-called "cuddle hormone," then showed them "photos of emotionally charged situations including a crying child, a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man" (what, no lost puppy?). The men who got the oxytocin reported deeper feelings toward the photo subject than the control group which received a dummy. Feelings just as deep as those of nature's champion emotion-havers — women. Writes Wilkinson, "Those who had the hormone spray had markedly higher levels of empathy - of a similar magnitude to those only usually seen in women who are naturally more sensitive to the feelings of others." The Times of India chimes in too: "Under normal circumstances, the 'weak' sex enjoys a clear advantage when it comes to the subject of 'empathy.'" Coverage of the study mentions women's empathy so consistently that the study authors themselves may have referenced it, but it would've been nice to see exactly how women performed on a similar photo test — rather than just some platitudes about the "weak" sex.

Still, the real fun comes in when journalists talk about applications for the spray. Here's Rosemary Black of the Daily News:

Think your man's too macho? A new nasal spray may turn him into a sensitive romantic who's tuned in to your every mood.

And the Times of India:

Women's prayers have finally been answered: Scientists have developed a spray which can make men sensitive and affectionate using a ''cuddle hormone''.

I know how much I love looking at photos of crying children and having deep emotions. If only a simple nasal spray could help "my man" share this with me! In all seriousness, though, the spray does seem to have some interesting potential uses. In addition to making dudes emote over kitten pics, the spray improved their "socially motivated learning." The men took a test in which they were shown a happy face for every right answer and a mad face for every wrong one. The oxytocin spray made this positive and negative feedback more effective, and helped the men improve faster. Researchers say the spray could be useful in therapies for autism, learning disabilities, or even schizophrenia.

The study sounds promising for those with disorders that make it difficult to learn or empathize with others. And I'm willing to buy that hormones can play a role in the way men and women process others' emotions — though socialization clearly has a role as well. However, I doubt that a shot of oxytocin is going to make a man — or a woman — "tuned in to your every mood." Luckily, we already have a method for that: it's called talking.

Image via Jason Stitt/Shutterstock.com.

New Nasal Spray Made With Oxytocin, The 'Cuddle Hormone,' Could Make Men More Sensitive [New York Daily News]
'Cuddle Hormone' Makes Men More Empathetic [BBC]
Hormone Spray Makes Men 'More Sensitive' [Telegraph]
Now, ‘Cuddle Hormone' Spray To Make Men More Caring [Times of India]