New findings discover source of empathy

Research shows oxytocin is related to empathy more than love and trust, as previously thought

  • Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Research shows oxytocin is related to empathy more than love and trust, as previously thought

Women have higher levels of emotional intelligence than men; that’s often just taken as read in management circles.

They are much better at empathy – the ability to see a situation from someone else’s perspective – than men. It means they have a natural edge when it comes to the soft skills needed in the modern workplace.

But there could be a quick fix that levels the playing field for men, and it comes in an unexpected form – nasal spray.

Scientists at Bonn University and the Cambridge Babraham Institute say they’ve found a link between exposure to the neuropeptide oxytocin and the ability of men to show empathy.

The substance also makes men more sensitive to what are called “social multipliers”, such as spotting a disapproving look from a colleague.

The team took 48 healthy males and gave half of them a blast of oxytocin nose spray, the other half a placebo.

They showed the men photos depicting a series of emotionally charged situations – among them, a crying child, a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man.

They then asked the men to express how they felt about the people in the photos.

“Significantly higher emotional empathy levels were recorded for the oxytocin group than for the placebo group,” says René Hurlemann of Bonn University’s Clinic for Psychiatry.

The dose of oxytocin had the effect of enhancing the ability of the men to experience fellow-feeling. The men who had the nose spray achieved results that would normally only be expected in women, says Hurlemann.

Oxytocin is a hormone that is known to trigger labour pains and strengthen the emotional bond between a mother and her newborn child.

The hormone could be useful as a medication for diseases such as schizophrenia, which are frequently associated with reduced social approachability and social withdrawal, Hurlemann says.

And an empathy spray could be just the product many wives and girlfriends have been waiting for.