Sunday, February 3, 2013

CAN A HORMONE MAKE READERS LIKE MY BOOKS??


The title is meant to be funny. However, new scientific discoveries show levels of certain hormones (substances synthesized in one tissue but affecting the function of another tissue or organ) can affect social behavior. Don’t become too enthused (like I was when I titled this article). The ramifications of the studies I’ll mention are unclear.

A hormone that may make you more social?
The brain synthesizes the peptide oxytocin, which facilitates childbirth and lactation. Since 2000, scientists have observed that oxytocin also tends to promote trust and decrease fear in animal models and humans in research studies. Now some psychologists are planning to test whether an oxytocin nasal spray helps autistic children become more attuned to social cues (Science 339:267-269 – January 18, 2013). Others are speculating oxytocin might facilitate trust and cooperation among humans. Side effects have been noted.

Undoing psychological harm in the future?
Psychologists know that some children and adolescents exposed to aggression show long-term symptoms, such as social aversion and increased anxiety, during adulthood. In 2013, two groups of researchers reported glucocorticoids, so called stress hormones, mediated these long-term changes in behavior in mice (Science 339:332-335 and 335-339 – January 18, 2013). The responses were noted only in animals with a genetic predisposition and involved epigenetics (changes in how genes functioned that didn’t involve alteration in the DNA sequence). Theoretically in the future, scientists may be able to identify sensitive children and lessen the effects of stress on them by blocking their sensitivity to glucocorticoids.

I debated whether to mention this research because it is easy to misuse the data. I decided this blog had three potential functions:
1. Might give ideas to science fiction writers,
2. Might arouse interest in neuroscience,
3. Might give hope to everyone as we read the headlines daily.

JL Greger and Bug