Oxytocin makes cool cats even cooler

3 minute read

A spot of hormone therapy and the king of the jungle turns into a big, friendly pussens.

Oxytocin studies are low-hanging fruit when looking for research to amuse all but the most long-faced endocrinologist.

But the University of Minnesota’s Jessica Burkhart and her team were definitely on to something when they decided to shove some of the love hormone up a few leonine noses and see what happened. 

Courtesy of YouTube, The Back Page observed Ms Burkhart administering the oxytocin intranasally while her subject chowed down on some raw meat – a bit like performing a PCR test, but with a much larger swab and a great big fence in between. 

Once the beast and his mates were all oxi-ed up, they got to play with a pumpkin, receive some food and have a listen to recorded roaring sounds while their social behaviours were observed and studied.

They were then compared with control subjects – a baseline group and some other lions that had received saline solution without the cuddle drug.

In the pumpkin play-object trial, the oxytocin lions remained considerably more up close and personal with their closest neighbour when compared to the controls. There was little difference between the groups’ social behaviour in the food trial.

When the researchers fired up the sound system and played the lions some roaring noises, however, there were once again significant differences. The control groups remained vigilant and had a good old roar and grunt when exposed to the sounds, while the oxy group just continued cosying up to their neighbours and remained generally chilled in a very un-lion-like fashion.

“The study provides evidence that oxytocin administration may increase prosocial behaviour between unfamiliar individuals, suggesting that oxytocin could potentially serve as a management tool to aid in introductions of lions both in captivity and in the wild,” Ms Burkhart’s team concluded.

As well as the results’ implications for conservation work, their application to human settings is equally interesting.

Consider the pub and a table packed with a sweaty bunch of NRL types, fresh from a crushing defeat: would snorting a dose of oxytocin keep them focused on pro-group cosying up together, rather than spoiling for a punch-up?

As a lay person, The Back Page wonders whether stocking oxy swabs between the pheromones and the condoms in the male bathroom vending machines might be a useful public service. 

If you have a science idea that’s behaving like a caged lion, let it loose and send it to felicity@medicalrepublic.com.au 

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