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Reduced empathy associated with low oxytocin levels



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Researchers at the University of Cardiff found that people who perform poorly on empathy tasks have low levels of Oxytocin.

Oxytocin, often labeled as the “love hormone,” is produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that controls mood and appetite — and stored in the pituitary gland.

The hormone triggers a reaction in the brain endorsing behavior such as sexual arousal, recognition, trust, anxiety, and mother-infant bonding.

In the study, empathic behavior was analyzed in people who were suspected of having low levels of oxytocin as a result of two medical conditions after pituitary surgery, according to PsychCentral.

Researchers assessed 20 people with the medical condition cranial diabetes insipidus (CDI). This condition, researchers suggests, causes the body to produce lower levels of ADH, a chemical produced in the hypothalamus, similar to oxytocin.

For the other condition, researchers also assessed 15 people with hypopituitarism (HP). This condition is caused by a lack of hormone production in the pituitary gland. These two patient groups were observed and compared to a group of 20 healthy individuals.

All participants were given an empathy test by researchers to analyze the recognition of emotional expression. Additionally, each group’s oxytocin levels were measured to be compared with the healthy sample.

What researchers noticed was that the 35 CDI and HP participants had reduced levels of oxytocin when compared to the healthy sample.

Katie Daughters, the lead researcher, stated how medical conditions are important in measuring oxytocin levels: “This is the first study which looks at low oxytocin as a result of medical, as opposed to psychological, disorders.”

“If replicated, the results from our patient groups suggest it is also important to consider medical conditions carrying a risk of low oxytocin levels,” she continued.

Furthermore, when comparing the CDI and HP groups with the healthy control group, researchers quickly noted that all groups aside from the healthy participants performed poorly on empathy tasks.

Researchers were able to predict expression by looking at their oxytocin levels. The participants with the lowest levels of oxytocin performed the worst, the study concluded.

“Patients who have undergone pituitary surgery, and in particular those who have acquired CDI as a consequence, may present with lower oxytocin levels,” Daughters said.

Daughters stand by the notion that lower oxytocin levels could impact emotional behavior and one’s psychological well-being.

“This could impact on their emotional behavior, and in turn affect their psychological well-being. Perhaps we should be considering the introduction of oxytocin level checks in these cases.”

Although the study found promising data, it is still in the preliminary stage and has not been peer-reviewed yet. Researchers are hoping to expand their findings and confirm what they discovered.


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