Two rhesus monkeys that had been trained to react to key symbols on a computer screen were seated side by side during the experiments. Significantly, rhesus monkeys are "primarily characterized by competition and aggression, and show very weak, if any, inclination toward cooperation," according to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Each monkey had his own computer display, and a tube was positioned in front of each monkey's mouth so juice – or reward –could be delivered.
Would they be willing to let the other monkey have a sip of juice, even if they didn't get a sip themselves? Yes, it turns out, consistent with earlier studies at Duke. But they were far more willing to give the juice to their fellow monkey after given a nasal dose of oxytocin, at least if it didn't damage their own chances of getting a swig.
"Thus, (the hormone) robustly enhanced prosocial choices when there was no potential cost to self, but slightly increased selfish choices when there was potential for direct self reward," the study concludes. That's a big change for a monkey known to be surly, and it suggests that the hormone can break down social barriers, a possibility that Platt described as "cool."
The researchers were able to track the eye movement of the monkeys, and the hormone caused each to focus more on the other monkey, so they were paying more attention to a colleague.
The inhaled hormone ended up in the cerebral spinal fluid, so it went right to the area that control's all activities – the brain. So monkeys apparently process the hormone the same way as humans, raising the odds that they would make good surrogates for further study.
However, it's not as tidy as this sounds, because in the first hour or two after getting the hormone, the monkeys actually became more selfish. It took a couple of hours for them to become more social and compassionate.
It's unlikely that this research will lead to a "recreational" drug that would make all of us a little more loving. That "Love Potion Number Nine" celebrated by the musicians that call themselves "The Clovers" is not likely to be on your pharmacist's shelf anytime soon.
Maybe that's best. Remember what happened to that love potion? According to the song, it ended like this:
"But when I kissed a cop down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine, he broke my little bottle of love potion number nine."
There's always a down side.