Now, a nasal spray to combat your shyness

Last Updated: Sep 26, 2010, 18:09 PM IST

London: There is good news for those who feel uncomfortable in socialising, as scientists have developed a new nasal spray which they claim can help overcome shyness.

A team of international scientists found that oxytocin, the brain hormone known for increasing empathy and bonding, improves the social skills of the shy when used as a nasal spray.

But the `love hormone` has little effect on those who are naturally confident, they said, stressing that their findings could have implications for those with severe social deficiencies, often apparent in conditions like autism.

"Oxytocin is widely believed to make all people more empathetic and understanding of others," said lead researcher Jennifer Bartz, a professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine of New York University (MSSM).

"Our study contradicts that. Instead, oxytocin appears to be helpful only for those who are less socially proficient, Prof Bartz was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

"Our data show that oxytocin selectively improves social cognition in people who are less socially proficient, but had little impact on more socially proficient individuals."

For their study, the researchers conducted a test of 27 healthy adult men, giving them the hormone or a placebo via a nasal spray and then asking them to perform an "empathic accuracy task" -- which measures their powers of reading the thoughts and feelings of others.

This involved watching others discussing emotional moments in their lives, then rating how they felt those people were feeling.

The scientists also measured the participants` social competency, using a test known as AQ which is usually used in autistic patients.

They found that oxytocin did improve powers of empathy -- but only among those who were less socially proficient in the first place.

The more socially comfortable participants performed well on the empathetic task regardless of whether they were on oxytocin or placebo.

But less socially proficient participants performed significantly better on oxytocin, with their empathetic powers performance identical to that of the more outgoing participants.

Prof Bartz said: "While more research is required, these results highlight the potential oxytocin holds for treating social deficits in people with disorders marked by deficits in social functioning like autism."

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

PTI