I'm sure you've heard the news already: it's all over the blogosphere since BCC Health first broke the news. Yeah, this is about that nasal spray you sniff – and your social phobia is gone !
If you have not heard about this “latest and greatest” social anxiety cure yet, let me regurgitate the news in brief. It all started when scientists from Zurich University found that people who inhaled the hormone called oxytocin continued to trust strangers even after they were cheated on. That discovery, they say, could lead to future treatments for social phobia. It did not take long for a long-sales-letter type websites to appear selling the new wonder drug:
It has been called “the love hormone”, “the cuddle chemical”, “the mind reading hormone” and “the trust drug”.
And for a reason.
It's the chemical that makes you feel what you're feeling during an orgasm. It is also produced during labor and it's responsible for the unique and unbreakable mother-child bond. When your brain is releasing oxytocin, you feel loved, relaxed and more open to trust – not only friends and lovers, but also strangers.
The Zurich University's study has found that oxytocin has a very specific effect in social situations: it seems to diminish fears. Lead researcher Dr Thomas Baumgartner thinks that a lack of oxytocin is at least one of the causes for the fear experienced by social phobics.
Brain scans show that oxytocin can lower activity in the amygdala – a region of brain that is responsible for feelings of fear and apprehension – and which is overactive in social phobics. So, yes – it's true: a sniff of oxytocin could improve readiness to engage in social interactions for people who suffer from social anxiety disorder by simply making them less fearful.
Then again, there are other things you can sniff to increase your confidence in social situations … Lots and lots of people who do not have social phobia consume alcohol for the same reason.
The problem is, such substances are indiscriminate in their effects: uncritical trust can be just as damaging as irrational avoidance.
Will this new drug heal us or kill us …?