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Oxytocin helped men remember faces better

January 12, 2009|Karen Kaplan

It's the hormone that makes people bond with mates and helps mothers fall in love with their babies. Now researchers have shown that oxytocin plays a key role in forming social memories.

A dose of oxytocin, administered by nasal spray, made Swiss men much more likely to recognize faces they had seen briefly the day before. But the hormone made no difference when it came to recalling pictures of houses, landscapes or sculptures, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Scientists from the University of Zurich recruited 41 volunteers and administered three puffs per nostril of either oxytocin or a placebo. After giving the hormone time to reach the brain, volunteers watched 84 photos of faces and 84 images of inanimate objects flash onto a computer screen for 3.5 seconds each.

One day later, volunteers were shown the same pictures mixed in with additional images and were asked to identify which were new and which they had seen before.

The 22 men who inhaled the hormone had an overall "recognition memory rate" of 46% for faces. That compared with only 36% for the 19 men who got the placebo. But both groups scored an identical 44% for pictures of houses, landscapes and sculptures, according to the study.

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karen.kaplan@latimes.com

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