07/08/2012 09:32 BST | Updated 07/08/2012 09:33 BST

Oxytocin Nasal Spray ‘Detects Other People's Emotions', Study Finds

A nasal spray containing the ‘bonding hormone’ oxytocin could help us detect other people’s emotions and make us better judges of character, recent research has suggested.

Researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Oslo enlisted the help of 40 healthy participants, and gave half of them an oxytocin-infused nasal spray and the other half a controlled saltwater dose).

nasal spray oxytocin

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Volunteers were then shown photographs of faces expressing different emotions (angry, happy and neutral facial expressions).

Oxytocin is a brain hormone known to boost feelings of calm and social bonding.

According to researchers, some of the faces had more subtle emotional expressions that are typically decoded at a more subconscious level.

The study found that participants who inhaled the oxytocin nasal spray had intensified awareness of the ‘hidden’ emotions in the photographs.

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"Faces expressing anger stood out as angrier and less happy, and correspondingly, faces expressing happiness were happier," said Siri Leknes, a cognitive neuroscientist from the study, to Live Science.

The experiment was conducted twice, in order to make sure that all participants were tested using both the oxytocin and salt water.

"It turns out that those with the lowest aptitude for judging emotional expression properly - that is, those with the poorest scores during the saltwater round - were the ones who showed the greatest improvement using oxytocin,” added Leknes.

“This is really fascinating; the people who need it the most are thus the ones who get the most out of using the hormone."

Researchers believe that this nasal spray could act as a treatment for those suffering from mental health disorders. Oxytocin is already prescribed to children with autism.

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