A Hormone That Enhances One’s Memory of Happy Faces

New study published in Biological Psychiatry

Philadelphia, PA, July 28, 2008 – Oxytocin was originally studied as the “milk let-down factor,” i.e., a hormone that was necessary for breast-feeding. However, there is increasing evidence that this hormone also plays an important role in social bonding and maternal behaviors. A new study scheduled for publication in the August 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry now shows that one way oxytocin promotes social affiliation in humans is by enhancing the encoding of positive social memories.

Adam J. Guastella, Ph.D. and his colleagues sought to evaluate the effects of oxytocin on the encoding and recognition of faces in humans. They recruited healthy male volunteers and in a double-blind, randomized design, administered either oxytocin or a placebo. They then presented a series of happy, angry and neutral human faces to the volunteers on a computer screen. Participants returned the following day where they were presented with a collection of faces and asked to distinguish the new faces from ones that they saw on the prior day. The results revealed that those who received oxytocin were more likely to remember the happy faces they had seen previously, more so than the angry and neutral faces.

Dr. Guastella notes that the “findings are exciting because they show for the first time that oxytocin facilitates the encoding of positive social information over social information that is either neutral or negative.” John H. Krystal, M.D., Editor of Biological Psychiatry and affiliated with both Yale University School of Medicine and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, comments on the findings: “The findings from Guastella and colleagues provide new evidence about a chemical system in the body that may help us to connect socially to other people. One could imagine that our ability to recall a particularly happy face at the end of a day full of social contacts could reflect an action of oxytocin.”

Social isolation can be a feature of several psychiatric disorders. The success of oxytocin in enhancing positive social memories raises the possibility that oxytocin, or drugs that might act like oxytocin in the brain, could be used to help people who are socially isolated and have difficulty making social connections. Future research will be needed to test this hypothesis.

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Notes to Editors
The article is “Oxytocin Enhances the Encoding of Positive Social Memories in Humans” by Adam J. Guastella, Philip B. Mitchell, and Frosso Mathews. Dr. Guastella is affiliated with the Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney, Australia. Dr. Mitchell is with the School of Psychiatry, while Dr. Mathews is with the School of Psychology, both at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 64, Issue 3 (August 1, 2008), published by Elsevier.

The authors’ disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article. Dr. Krystal's disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

Full text of the article mentioned above is available upon request. Contact Jayne M. Dawkins at (215) 239-3674 or ja.dawkins@elsevier.com to obtain a copy or to schedule an interview.

About Biological Psychiatry
This international rapid-publication journal is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry. It covers a broad range of topics in psychiatric neuroscience and therapeutics. Both basic and clinical contributions are encouraged from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major neuropsychiatric disorders. Full-length and Brief Reports of novel results, Commentaries, Case Studies of unusual significance, and Correspondence and Comments judged to be of high impact to the field are published, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Concise Reviews and Editorials that focus on topics of current research and interest are also published rapidly.

Biological Psychiatry is ranked 4th out of the 95 Psychiatry titles and 16th out of 199 Neurosciences titles on the 2006 ISI Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Scientific.


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