Oxytocin, the nurturing hormone involved in child-birth and breast-feeding, apparently plays a role in how we recognize faces, according to a paper in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers gave volunteers a nasal dose of oxytocin and found that they all had improved recognition memory for faces, but not for inanimate objects.
In humans, oxytocin, which comes from the Greek meaning “quick birth”, increases social behaviors like trust, but its role in social memory has been unclear. “Recognizing a familiar face is a crucial feature of successful social interaction in humans,” said Peter Klaver, of the University of Zurich, Switzerland. In this study undertaken with Ulrike Rimmele, of New York University and colleagues, the team investigated for the first time the systematic effect of oxytocin on social memory in humans.
“This is the first paper showing that a single dose of oxytocin specifically improves recognition memory for social, but not for nonsocial, stimuli,” said Ernst Fehr, who has studied oxytocin’s effect on trust and is unaffiliated with the new study. “The results suggest an immediate, selective effect of the hormone: strengthening neuronal systems of social memory,” Fehr said.