If we humans inhale oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” we become more trusting, cooperative, and generous. Scientists have shown that it’s the key chemical in the formation of bonds between many mammalian species and their offspring. But does oxytocin play the same role in social relationships that aren’t about reproduction? To find out, scientists in Japan sprayed either oxytocin or a saline spray into the nostrils of 16 pet dogs, all more than 1 year old. The canines then joined their owners, who were seated in another room and didn’t know which treatment their pooch had received. The owners were instructed to ignore any social response from their dogs. But those Fidos that inhaled the oxytocin made it tough for their masters not to break the rule. A statistical analysis showed the canines were more likely to sniff, lick, and paw at their people than were those given the saline solution. The amount of time that the oxytocin-enhanced dogs spent close to their owners, staring at their eyes, was also markedly higher, the scientists report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Getting a whiff of oxytocin also made the dogs friendlier toward their dog pals as determined by the amount of time they spent in close proximity to their buddies. The study supports the idea, the scientists say, that oxytocin isn’t just produced in mammals during reproductive events. It’s also key to forming and maintaining close social relationships—even when those are with unrelated individuals or different species.
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