Oxytocin is on the Market, Trust Me

Have you ever heard of oxytocin? It’s commonly known as the “love and trust” hormone. Why? Because our body releases it when we bond with others. But there’s a darker side to it… Oxytocin is currently being manufactured and marketed as a spray to make those around you more trustworthy. Are you creeped out? You should be.

Bit of biology – oxytocin is both a brain neurotransmitter and a hormone. Oxytocin acts as a neurotransmitter because it’s produced in the hypothalamus and then transported to the neighbouring pituitary gland. The pituitary gland then releases oxytocin into the brain and the blood stream. After oxytocin is released it acts as a hormone. In men it affects the production of testosterone in the testes and plays a role in moving sperm. In women its role is very important in child birth as it signals contractions to start and after the baby is born it fosters love, nurturing and a strong emotional bond between mother and child.

As well as maternal bonding, oxytocin has been linked to trust, care and affiliating with others. When someone intentionally shows they can be trusted our oxytocin levels increase. And when we want to reciprocate that trust the same thing happens; our oxytocin levels increase. But when we don’t feel like we can trust someone or our intentions are not trustworthy, our oxytocin levels don’t increase. So we create a somewhat oxytocin cycle of trusting and social bonding that makes us feel loved, safe and cared for by those around us (Kosfeld et al., 2005; Zak et al., 2005).

So oxytocin is a hot topic because of its association with love, trust and being loved and trustworthy. But oxytocin doesn’t just bring about good things… Greg Miller (2010) found that oxytocin has a dark side (couldn’t resist the Star Wars reference there). As predicted, he found that his participants behaved more altruistically towards members of their own group when more oxytocin was released. Makes sense. But he also found that his participants displayed more “defensive aggression” towards outsiders or non-group members. In other words, oxytocin isn’t all love, trust and rainbows; oxytocin can get out your defensive gloves to protect those from untrustworthy folk.

Yet regardless of the good and bad sides of oxytocin, companies like PheromonesAttract.Net are manufacturing and marketing oxytocin as a spray called Liquid Trust. As they proudly advertise:

“Apply Liquid Trust to yourself in the morning while getting dressed, before important meetings during the day or in the evening before going out to socialize. Everyone you encounter will immediately and unconsciously detect the pure human oxytocin in Liquid Trust that you are wearing. Without realizing why, the people around you have a strong feeling of trust. They can’t explain it, but you know that Liquid Trust is doing its magic!” 

This spray is 100% creepy! Firstly, its goal is to get you to trust people you wouldn’t normally trust and advertises that this new super power spray can be used at work, on dates, at parties, basically anywhere. Secondly, they’ve conveniently left out the part that oxytocin can make you aggressive towards others. Of course if they advertised that part no-one would buy their spray.

But don’t worry, it’s a gimmick. Doctors and researchers administer oxytocin either with a nasal spray or an injection into veins or muscles because oxytocin has to actually be in your blood stream for it to have any effect. Spraying it on your skin or hair won’t do the trick.

If you want to know more, watch the TED talk with Paul Zak on trust, morality and oxytocin.

Written by Alison Holland

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Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P. J., Fischbacher, U., & Fehr, E. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435(7042), 673-676.

Miller, G. (2010). The prickly side of oxytocin. Science, 328(5984), 1343-1343.

Zak, P. J., Kurzban, R., & Matzner, W. T. (2005). Oxytocin is associated with human trustworthiness. Hormones and behavior, 48(5), 522-527.