Oxytocin, the feel-good bonding hormone released by physical contact with another person, orgasm and childbirth (potentially encouraging monogamy), might have a darker side. The love drug also plays an important role in intensifying negative emotional memories and increasing feelings of fear in future stressful situations, according to a new study.
Two experiments performed with mice found that the hormone activates a signaling molecule called extracellular-signal-related kinases (ERK), which has been associated with the way the brain forms memories of fear. According to Jelena Radulovic, senior author on the study and a professor at Northwestern University's medical school, ERK stimulates fear pathways in the brain's lateral septum, the region with the highest levels of oxytocin.
Mice without oxytocin receptors and mice with even more oxytocin receptors than usual were placed individually in a cage with aggressive mice to create a stressful social situation. The mice without receptors didn't appear to remember the aggression, and didn't show fear of the aggressive mice when reintroduced to the cage later. In contrast, the mice whose brains were full of oxytocin displayed intense fear when reintroduced to the aggressive mice.
In a subsequent experiment, the mice got to visit with the aggressive mice a few hours before being put in a box where they got a small, non-painful electric shock. A day later, upon going back to the shock box, the overly oxytocin'd mice exhibited much greater fear than the control group with normal oxytocin levels. The group with no oxytocin receptors didn't show an enhanced fear of the box. This suggests that the hormone not only helps us remember negative social experiences, it intensifies anxiety in new stressful situations afterward.
"By understanding the oxytocin system's dual role in triggering or reducing anxiety, depending on the social context, we can optimize oxytocin treatments that improve well-being instead of triggering negative reactions," Radulovic said.
The study is online this week in Nature Neuroscience.
well, looks like we found the way to make fearless soldiers. inhibit their oxytocin receptors. So long as they can learn from past mistakes.
perhaps also, this could be the end of torture ... capture an enemy soldier, load him up on Oxytocin and perhaps, just the threat of torture will make him spill the proverbial beans.
@The Random Factor Soldiers are people, just like you, the author, and the vast majority of humans on this planet.
Would you really want a government that could ignore that fact?
Also, while the usage of oxytocin as an interrogation enhancer is an interesting idea, it's rather similar to the 'simulated execution' technique that's already been outlawed by the UN.
@Starfire42 ... i understand they are regular people, but if we take away a soldier's ability to be afraid, they would be less prone to hesitation. when you don't have fear or panic, you can think cleary. surely a fearless soldier would be a greater advisary?
one draw back - if you arent afraid, you might not get the adrenaline dump - but a benefit is a clearer state of mind.
Also, I was googling simulated execution, only thing i could find was waterboarding.
is this what you mean? or is it something different?
if it's waterboarding then despite the UN, the US has been doing that offshore @ G-Bay.
What i was meaning, was to load them up so that their fear/panic is through the roof. then just the indication of harm will cause them to break. not actually, doing anything physical to them ....
@The Random Factor
That's an interesting idea, though in order for them to 'fear' being interrogated would require past experiences of interrogation. Their needs to be a physical or mental experience that associates with the induction of anixety. There needs to be a connection between experiences in their environment and the physiological induction of anxiety. Associative fear learning is necessary in the expression of fear, otherwise the captives would just be anxious. However, It would be interesting to see if the induced anxiety alone would sensitize them to even minor (non physical) methods of interrogation.
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yeah, it's kind of a 'what if'
it would be interesting if that would actually work.
Substitute "enhanced concern for self-preservation" for "fear" and the research results may become self-evident. Why wouldn't we expect a new parent, e.g., or a new couple attracted to each other to create a potential baby-making enterprise, to be more motivated to preserve life and limb by a sense of obligation to others. Also, why wouldn't we expect such oxytocin-laden folks to be more risk averse, as well. Mice can exhibit fear, but they cannot exhibit the consideration and calm trepidation that our new parent might display in a situation that might be seen quite differently prior to giving birth. Human cognition is situated in context, it is not a constant over time. I wonder how short-lived mice can effectively explain human cognition and behavior.
This main explain a behaviour exhibited when skiing years ago with very good friends. A mother, who had two children, 3 and 4 year olds also skiing, said that although she had spent two years being educated in Swirzerland from 16 to 18, and used to be an expert off-piste and Black Run Skier, she had become frightened and skied very carefully, since having had children. Her off-piste, vertical run days were over, she said.
This discovery might be a cause of her change from fearless to carefully.