Oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. It plays an important part in labour and breastfeeding and is also associated with social recognition, pair bonding, dampening negative emotional responses, trust and love. Researchers at Oregon State University have been investigating how a genetic variation that influences how the body processes oxytocin could be linked to the way people deal with stress and feel empathy for others. 200 college students were subjected to blasts of white noise after a countdown presented on screeen; their heart rates were measured to see how they responded to stress. The students also took another test trying to work out people's emotions from pictures of their eyes; this test was designed to measure empathy. The students with one particular variation of the gene felt less stress after the white noise and performed much better on the empathy task. Previous research using a nasal spray to deliver oxytocin to people with autism found that it increased their scores on tests of empathy.
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