"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015


Nasal spray may help beat shyness

Dec. 9, 2011
Courtesy of Concordia University
and World Science staff

For some peo­ple, first dates, job in­ter­views or Christ­mas cock­tail par­ties are the stuff of night­mares. Such so­cial rites of pas­sage have doubt­less made such peo­ple—usually the shy or in­tro­verted type­s—wish for a mag­ic po­tion that could make them feel like so­cialites. 

Some might think that po­tion is al­co­hol, but its many draw­backs are well known.

A bet­ter an­swer may turn out to come from a na­sal spray, say sci­en­tists, re­port­ing new re­search in the jour­nal Psy­cho­phar­ma­co­logy.

The study found that a na­sally sprayed form of the hor­mone ox­y­to­cin can im­prove self-per­cep­tion in so­cial situa­t­ions. Ox­y­to­cin, nat­u­rally re­leased fol­low­ing child­birth or dur­ing so­cial bond­ing pe­ri­ods, has re­cently been in­ves­t­i­gated for its im­pact on so­cial be­hav­iors.

“Our study shows ox­y­to­cin can change how peo­ple see them­selves, which could in turn make peo­ple more so­cia­ble,” said Mark El­len­bo­gen of Con­cor­dia Uni­vers­ity in Can­a­da, sen­ior au­thor of the stu­dy. “Un­der the ef­fects of ox­y­to­cin, a per­son can per­ceive them­selves as more ex­tro­verted, more open to new ideas and more trust­ing.”

The re­search­ers re­cruited about 100 men and wom­en be­tween the ages of 18 and 35 for the stu­dy, all of whom were judged to be healthy non-smokers who were not tak­ing any med­ica­t­ions or drugs. Par­ti­ci­pants in­haled ox­y­to­cin from a na­sal spray and filled out ques­tion­naires on how they felt 90 min­utes lat­er. They were eval­u­at­ed for neu­rot­i­cism, openness to new ex­pe­ri­ences, agree­a­ble­ness, con­sci­en­tious­ness and ex­tra­ver­sion, or the ten­den­cy to seek out company.

“Par­ti­ci­pants who self-ad­min­is­tered intrana­sal ox­y­to­cin re­ported high­er rat­ings of ex­tra­ver­sion and openness to ex­pe­ri­ences than those who re­ceived a place­bo,” or chem­ic­ally in­ac­tive pill, said Chris­to­pher Car­doso, a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Cor­dor­dia who was list­ed as first au­thor of the stu­dy. “Ox­y­to­cin ad­min­istra­t­ion am­pli­fied per­sonal­ity traits such as warmth, trust, al­tru­ism and openness.”

The study builds on pre­vi­ous work at Con­cor­dia that has found intrana­sal ox­y­to­cin can in­flu­ence how peo­ple per­ceive their abil­ity to cope with dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

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For some people, first dates, job interviews or Christmas cocktail parties are the stuff of nightmares. Such social rites of passage have doubtless made such people—usually the shy or introverted types—wish for a magic potion that could make them feel like socialites. Some might think that potion is alcohol, but the drawbacks of the bottle are well known. A better answer may turn out to come from a nasal spray, say scientists, reporting new research in the journal Psychopharmacology. The study found that a nasally sprayed form of the hormone oxytocin can improve self-perception in social situations. Oxytocin, naturally released following childbirth or during social bonding periods, has recently been investigated for its impact on social behaviors. “Our study shows oxytocin can change how people see themselves, which could in turn make people more sociable,” said Mark Ellenbogen of Concordia University in Canada, senior author of the study. “Under the effects of oxytocin, a person can perceive themselves as more extroverted, more open to new ideas and more trusting.” The researchers recruited about 100 men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 for the study, all of whom were judged to be healthy non-smokers who were not taking any medications or drugs. Participants inhaled oxytocin from a nasal spray and filled out questionnaires on how they felt 90 minutes later. They were evaluated for neuroticism, openness to new experiences, agreeableness, conscientiousness and extraversion, or the tendency to seek out company. “Participants who self-administered intranasal oxytocin reported higher ratings of extraversion and openness to experiences than those who received a placebo,” or chemically inactive pill, said Christopher Cardoso, a graduate student at Cordordia who was listed as first author of the study. “Oxytocin administration amplified personality traits such as warmth, trust, altruism and openness.” The study builds on previous experimental research at Concordia that has found intranasal oxytocin can influence how people perceive their ability to cope with difficult circumstances.