But what you say to her may depend on your childhood. According to a new study, oxytocin exaggerates the feelings guys have about their moms — good or bad.
According to the Telegraph, researchers surveyed 31 men about their childhood relationships with their mothers, dosed them with the hormone, and then surveyed them again (yes, it's a small sample, but check out this comment thread for an explanation of why that doesn't make the whole study worthless). The guys who reported being close to their moms as children before the oxytocin felt even closer afterwards, whereas the ones whose memories of their mothers were more anxious felt that anxiety ramp up. Says the study's lead author, Dr. Jennifer Bartz,
On one hand, we found that oxytocin exacerbated chronic concerns about closeness and the reliability of close others that characterize attachment anxiety. On the other hand, less anxious participants clearly showed a beneficial response to oxytocin, remembering their relationship with their mother in childhood in a more positive light. Oxytocin is popularly dubbed the 'hormone of love', but these data suggest that oxytocin is not an all-purpose attachment panacea.
This isn't the first study to suggest that oxytocin isn't all sunshine and rainbows — earlier this year, researchers found that game-players given the hormone became increasingly cooperative with teammates but more "aggressive" towards opponents. This study, like the one about mothers and another from this fall in which oxytocin was examined as a potential treatment for social difficulties, included only men. With all the talk in pop culture about how the "love drug" supposedly makes women biologically compelled to have Commitment Talks, it would be nice to see these studies replicated on ladies — I'd like to know how oxytocin affects women's attitudes toward their moms and their enemies (who hopefully aren't one and the same), not just toward the people they bone. At the very least, we should recognize that hormones — and humans — are complicated things, and no one chemical is going to make us love everybody.