London: People suffering from medical conditions causing low levels of oxytocin -- love hormone -- perform worse on empathy tasks, reveals a new research.
Oxytocin is often referred to as the "love hormone" due to its role in human behaviours including sexual arousal, recognition, trust, anxiety and mother-infant bonding. It is produced by the hypothalamus -- an area of the brain that controls mood and appetite -- and stored in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ that sits at the base of the skull.
In the study, researchers from the University of Cardiff, Wales, investigated empathic behaviour in people who they suspected of having reduced oxytocin levels due to one of two medical conditions caused in response to pituitary surgery.
They assessed 20 people with cranial diabetes insipidus (CDI) and 15 people with hypopituitarism (HP) who were compared to a group of 20 healthy controls.
The findings revealed that CDI and HP groups performed significantly worse on empathy tasks, compared to controls. In particular, CDI participants with the lowest levels of oxytocin produced the worst performances.
Researchers said this is the first study which looks at low oxytocin as a result of medical, as opposed to psychological, disorders.
"If replicated, the results from our patient groups suggest it is also important to consider medical conditions carrying a risk of low oxytocin levels," said Katie Daughters from the University of Cardiff.
Further, patients who have undergone pituitary surgery, and in particular those who have acquired CDI as a consequence, may present with lower oxytocin levels. This could impact on their emotional behaviour, and in turn affect their psychological well-being, Daughters added.
The study was presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Brighton.