Hate parties? Feel socially anxious? Never know the best thing to say to other people and want to become a hermit after at least half the time you spend having to make polite conversation? Turns out you’re not antisocial, misanthropic, or weird. You just don’t have enough oxytocin.
Scientists had been studying this hormone, which promotes bonding and feelings of togetherness (and is secreted when we hug, as well as when/if we breastfeed), as a possible explanation for autism, because it’s lower in children diagnosed with the disorder.
But new research from Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital shows that things aren’t that simple. These researchers say that rather than causing autism, low levels of oxytocin may be responsible for the communication difficulties that many people with autism experience.
What’s more, there seems to be a link between difficulty socialising and low oxytocin levels in children who don’t have autism. They also found that these levels seemed to be hereditary, so if your mum’s the life of the party, chances are you will be, too.
More work is needed before scientists find a way to boost people’s ability to socialise using oxytocin supplementation. Hugging someone several times a day might work, but could be tricky to organise. But this research does mean that next time you’re stuck in an awkward conversation, you could legitimately use ‘Excuse me, my oxytocin levels are dangerously low’ as an exit line.
Image via Nana B Agyei’s Flickr.