Hormone spray could banish shyness.

Med reduces fear response.

18 July 2007

It was hailed as the “trust” hormone, then the “mind-reading” hormone. Now it seems oxytocin may also help people with social phobia to interact.

Markus Heinrichs at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and colleagues are studying 70 people with generalised social phobia, characterised by overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness in social situations.

Half an hour before undergoing standard cognitive behavioural therapy, which is designed to alter negative thoughts and behaviour, the patients were given a dose of oxytocin by nasal spray.

Preliminary results suggest oxytocin improved their readiness to interact in role-playing and their confidence in tackling social challenges outside the sessions, says Heinrichs, who will present his results at the World Congress of Neuroscience in Melbourne, Australia, this week.

In a separate study, Heinrichs and colleagues report that oxytocin reduces the response of the amygdala – a brain region involved in the fear response – to pictures of fearful, happy or angry faces (Biological Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.03.025). This may explain why patients are more ready to engage in social situations, Heinrichs believes.

Source: New Scientist Magazine

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