Oxytocin is also known as the cuddle hormone. When humans inhale this medication, they become more generous, more collaborative, and more trusting. The hormone is most important in the ‘bonding’ between mammals of many species and their young.
The question is whether oxytocin also works in relationships in which reproduction plays no role. Researchers in Japan decided to take on the challenge. They asked a group of dog owners to bring their dogs to the research centre. The 16 dogs were all more than one year old. In a separate room, the dogs received a spray containing either oxytocin or saline solution. The owners were ‘blinded’: they did not know which dogs had received which treatment. They had also been instructed not to react to any of their dogs’ social behaviours. The dogs that had received oxytocin made it difficult for their owners to comply. Analysis of the results revealed that animals treated with oxytocin demonstrated much more sniffing, licking and pawing than those that received the saline solution. The dogs in the oxytocin group stayed closer to their owners and looked them in the eyes more often. These dogs also showed more friendly behaviour towards the other dogs, as measured by the time spent very near them.
The researchers find the conclusion justified that oxytocin is not only produced when reproduction is involved. It is an important hormone in forming and maintaining social relationships, even those between two nonrelated animal species.