Are you sick of reading about infidelity? You might find this refreshing.
Research published Wednesday in The Journal of Neuroscience finds that the hormone oxytocin might help married men honor their marital bonds by keeping attractive “other” women at arm’s length.
Researchers at the University of Bonn, Germany set out to test the effect oxytocin might have on men when they’re confronted with attractive female strangers. As the study notes, that hormone triggers the processes of childbirth and breast-feeding in women and plays several other important roles in human relations, increasing trust between people and encouraging formation of bonds between parents and their offspring and between couples. Animal studies have shown that the hormone promotes fidelity among monogamous prairie-vole couples, the study explains.
In the new study, 57 men – healthy heterosexuals, about half married, the others single – were divided into two groups, one of which was administered a nasal spray containing oxytocin, the other a placebo spray. After 45 minutes, the fellows were introduced to a woman who then moved around the room, sometimes drawing nearer to the man and sometimes moving away. In the second half of the experiment, the men did the moving. The men were asked to note when the distance between himself and the woman felt “ideal” or “slightly uncomfortable.” They were later asked whether the woman struck them as attractive; married and single men alike reported that she was indeed attractive.
The researchers had figured oxytocin’s trust-promoting quality would affect all men equally, rendering those who had received it comfortable with less distance between themselves and the woman than the men in the placebo group would be.
But, the study reports, the team was surprised to find that the married men who received oxytocin kept a bit more distance – about four to six inches, measured from chin to chin – from the attractive woman than their single peers did.
That held true regardless of whether the woman made eye contact with the men or averted her gaze and whether she was the one approaching the man or vice versa.
Another component of the study had male subjects respond to the presence of a male experimenter, who moved about the room just as the female had. The oxytocin made no difference in the distance the men kept between themselves and the other male in their presence.
The study concludes, “While the most obvious physiological stimulus for promoting [release of oxytocin] in men would be having sex with their mate, the simple close presence and touch of their partner at any given moment in time might also suffice. Thus, [oxytocin] effects in promoting monogamy in males may normally depend upon the presence of a close positive relationship in the bond with their female partners and close physical proximity between the couple.”
No nasal spray needed.