Researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered that the activity level of a gene called OXT may affect a person's social behavior and ability to form close bonds.
High activity of the OXT gene, which is involved in producing the hormone oxytocin, was found to be linked with recognition of emotional facial expressions and also a lower level of anxiety about personal relationships, according to U.S. News. The results were published in a new study on June 20.
Oxytocin has been called the "love hormone" for its link with various social behaviors in humans. The hormone is released during intimate interactions such as sex, hugging, and kissing, as well as looking into another person's eyes or holding hands, according to WebMD.
"When you're first becoming intimate, you're releasing lots of dopamine and oxytocin. That's creating that link between the neural systems that are processing your facial cues, your voice and the reward system" that exists in a person's brain, said Emory University Psychiatry Professor Larry Young, who studies oxytocin's role in how people bond socially.
Those who were studied and found to have low activity in their OXT gene were also found to have less brain activity in parts of the brain that are associated with bonding and socializing. They also had less matter in a part of the brain involved in processing faces.
"All of our tests indicate that the OXT gene plays an important role in social behavior and brain function," said Brian Haas, the study's lead author and assistant professor of psychology.
The findings are still preliminary, said Haas, so more research needs to be done before coming to conclusions. Haas added that the research his team has done could pave the way for new treatments for social disorders.
Another study on oxytocin found that when men were given a whiff of the hormone and shown pictures of their partners, the reward centers in their brains activated, while pictures of other women had the opposite effect, and lowered the brain's feeling of pleasure.
"Oxytocin triggers the reward system to activate on the partner's face, the presence of the partner," said Psychiatry Professor Dr. Rene Hurlemann, one of that study's authors.