Oxytocin has been tested as an anti-anxiety drug and is even available in a nasal spray that allows the hormone to enter the brain. But now, researchers say the hormone is more complicated than once thought.
"In studies where the potential psychological effects of oxytocin are done, the results are conflicting," psychiatrist Massey said. "In a healthy population, it does increase trust, reduce the perception of stress and increase well-being, but studies are done with healthy volunteers at universities. Many, who have depression or maybe negative memories, have been excluded from these studies."
Massey said the best metaphor for the way oxytocin seems to work is the car radio.
"Think about mood and an emotional experience as a song and the brain is the radio," she said. "Some stations play happy music and some play sad music."
For years of research, doctors have thought of oxytocin as happy music.
"What the research findings suggest is that oxytocin may actually be the volume dial," Massey said. "Depending on what station you are on, turning up the volume can make sad music louder."