BEHAVIOR
January 20, 2012

A Cure for Shyness?

The mother-baby bonding hormone, oxytocin, made introverts feel more outgoing and trusting.

For people who have a tough time in social situations, taking a whiff of the hormone oxytocin may help them feel a little extra...extroverted. Oxytocin, which has also been shown to affect the social skills of people with autism, is often referred to as the mother-infant “bonding hormone.” It is secreted in large quantities directly after childbirth and seems to promote the bonding of mother and child.

What seems to be going on is that people’s perception of themselves changes after a dose of oxytocin.

A new study set out to determine whether oxytocin would affect how open and outgoing people felt. The participants inhaled the hormone – or placebo – and then took a test 90 minutes later to measure "Big Five" personality traits: neuroticism, extroversion, openness to new experiences, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

“Participants who self-administered intranasal oxytocin reported higher ratings of trust and openness to experiences than those who received a placebo,” says author Christopher Cardoso. They ranked higher in factors like “warmth, trust, altruism and openness.” But there was no effect on “negative emotionality, conscientiousness, rejection sensitivity, depression, worry, self-esteem, and perceived social support.”

What seems to be going on is that people’s perception of themselves changes after a dose of oxytocin. Senior author Mark Ellenbogen says the “study shows oxytocin can change how people see themselves, which could in turn make people more sociable. Under the effects of oxytocin, a person can perceive themselves as more extroverted, more open to new ideas and more trusting,” he continues.

It’s worth mentioning that the study only looked at self-reports of how the participants felt internally. It did not have participants actually engage in social interactions or have observers rank the participants’ behavior, both of which would be interesting additions. More research will clearly be needed before people would be prescribed oxytocin for introversion, but the research is promising, and suggests that a whiff of extroversion may one day be possible.

The study was published in Psychopharmacology.

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