“Love potions” sound like a major plot tool in a seedy remake of a "Harry Potter" film. However, a study claims it has developed an oxytocin-like spray that can make women find their partner up to “15 percent more attractive.”
The hormone oxytocin is the body’s own love drug. While it’s most commonly associated with maternal bonding and cuddles, the hormone is also known to be linked to orgasms, trust between people, and loss of social inhibition. Its ability to alter behavior is so strong, scientists have already drawn comparisons between this “hug hormone” and both alcohol and cannabis.
So, in a bid to better understand this hormone, researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany looked into how oxytocin-like chemicals affected the extent to which women found certain men sexually attractive.
In their experiment, the researchers gathered a group of 40 women in their twenties, all of whom were “passionately in love” with their partner. Half of these women were given a placebo while the other half inhaled a spray containing syntocinon, a synthetic form of oxytocin. They then swapped these groups around and gave the hormone to the ones who previously had the placebo, and vice versa.
After both sets of experiments, the groups were presented with photographs of their partner along with a selection of other men and asked to rank their level of attractiveness.
The results showed that a quick pump of the nasal spray made the women find their partners 15 percent more attractive. Interestingly, women who took contraceptive pills showed no change in results, although the reasons behind this are unclear.
The University of Bonn conducted a nearly identical experiment in 2013 that instead looked into how synthetic oxytocin affects the extent to which men found women attractive. This experiment showed extremely similar results, with oxytocin increasing how attractive the men found their partners. This study also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at brain activity, which revealed that the men who took oxytocin had heightened reward system activity when viewing photographs of their partners, which could explain the findings. This link between oxytocin, viewing a romantic partner and the reward center of one's brain is likely to be the same across genders, according to the researchers.
Our understanding of oxytocin is still in its infancy. Although there’s been a huge selection of studies proclaiming its miraculous effects – ranging from reducing anxiety, increasing appetite and helping people with autism – some of its effects have been questioned. That said, there’s no doubt it holds a fascinating role in our social world. And that of marmosets, too.