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Could intranasal oxytocin be used to enhance relationships? Research imperatives, clinical policy, and ethical considerations

Wudarczyk, Olga A.a,b,*; Earp, Brian D.a,c,*; Guastella, Adamd; Savulescu, Juliana,c

doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e3283642e10
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Purpose of review Well-functioning romantic relationships are important for long-term health and well being, but they are often difficult to sustain. This difficulty arises (in part) because of an underlying tension between our psychobiological natures, culture/environment, and modern love and relationship goals. One possible solution to this predicament is to intervene at the level of psychobiology, enhancing partners’ interpersonal connection through neurochemical modulation. This article focuses on a single, promising biobehavioral sub-system for such intervention: the attachment system, based largely upon the expression of the neuropeptide oxytocin. Could the exogenous administration of oxytocin – under the right conditions – be used to facilitate relational or marital well being?

Recent findings If so, it would require considerable forethought. Recent research complicates the popular image of oxytocin as a universal social enhancer or ‘love hormone’ and shows that it may exert a variety of different effects, at different dosages, on different people, under different circumstances. Accordingly, we discuss what is known about oxytocin, including its ‘good’ and ‘bad’ effects on human behavior and on higher-order functional processes.

Summary Building upon animal-model, human preclinical, and clinical findings, we outline a proposal for the use of oxytocin in the therapeutic neuroenhancement of contemporary romantic relationships. Highlighting key targets for future research along the way, we then conclude by discussing some of the clinical and ethical considerations that would pertain to the implementation of this knowledge in applied settings.

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aOxford Centre for Neuroethics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

bDepartment of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany

cUehiro Centre For Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

dBrain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

*Olga A. Wudarczyk and Brian D. Earp contributed equally to the writing of this article.

Correspondence to Olga A. Wudarczyk or Brian D. Earp, Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, Suite 8, Littlegate House, St Ebbes Street, Oxford OX1 1PT, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1865 286888; e-mail:

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