"Cuddling hormone" also aids memory

March 5, 2009 5:53:31 PM PST
Oxytocin is known to increase generosity and trust. Now, a new study shows it can improve one type of memory too.

Now, scientists at New York University have discovered they also improve how well people recall faces.

Neuroscientist Ulrike Rimmele says, "This is the first time that a hormone has been shown to help people recognize other people's faces."

Rimmele asked volunteers to inhale a nasal spray containing either the hormone, or a placebo.

After 40 minutes, she showed them images of faces an inanimate objects, such as houses and landscapes.

The next day, the volunteers were tested on how well they remembered the images.

As she wrote in the "Journal of Neuroscience," volunteers who inhaled oxytocin did a better job of remembering faces, but were no better at remembering the inanimate objects.

"So it's not like improving their general recognition memory but it's only specifically improving their recognition memory for another person," says Rimmele.

The results suggest that oxytocin instantly enhances social memory.

Rimmele says that finding out how the hormong acts at the basic level of face recognition could lead to a better understanding of its role in more complex social interactions.

He colleagues are now conducting clinical studies to find out whether the hormone can help those with autism or with social phobias.

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