Jennifer Bartz from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine New York, found that it improves people’s ability to read emotions, but only if they are not very socially adept to begin with. Her team also showed that oxytocin actually reduces trust and cooperation in people who are particularly anxious or sensitive to rejection. It can even alter our memories in different ways. It gives people fonder recollections of their mothers, but only if they are secure in their personal relationships. If they are socially anxious, oxytocin makes them remember their mums as being less caring and more distant.
Like Sullivan, I had hitherto shared the conventional rose-tinted idea that oxytocin was this very positive thing. What a useful reminder about the complexity of human engagement. There are lots and lots of thing facilitators are tempted to do, short of injecting drugs, on the basis that they will improve connectedness in a group. (One recently explained that his process typically raised oxytocin levels and I really liked it.) We shouldn’t be surprised if they sometimes have the opposite effect on some participants.