When a man tells his wife or girlfriend she looks nice, it’s not because of her new haircut or high heels. Instead, it’s his hormones doing the talking.
A study found that a whiff of the ‘cuddle chemical’ oxytocin made men rate their partners as being more attractive.
However, the hormone, which is released when we hug or kiss, did not make work colleagues or strangers look more beautiful in the men’s eyes.
The German researchers said that oxytocin may play a key role in monogamy, a trait that is rare among mammals, other than ourselves.
The University of Bonn scientists showed 40 young men who claimed to be passionately in love pictures of their partners.
They were asked how attractive they found the women after being given a placebo spray to sniff and a burst of oxytocin.
Pictures of strangers and of long-term acquaintances, such as work colleagues were also shown.
The men, who were in long-term relationships, also underwent scans to check how much the brain areas responsible for rewarding feelings lit up.
Lead author Dirk Scheele said: ‘When the men received the oxytocin instead of placebo, the reward system in the brain was very active when viewing their partner and they perceived them as more attractive than other women.
‘The activation of the reward system with the aid of oxytocin had a very selective effect with the pictures of the partners.
‘We did not detect this effect with pictures of long-standing acquaintances.’
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists said that the oxytocin released during close physical contact seems to boost monogamy by making a woman seem more attractive in a man’ s eyes.
But only when the two are in a loving relationship.
They added that the drop in production of oxytocin that accompanies the end of a relationship could make the break-up even harder to bear.
They said: ‘The biological mechanism in a couple relationship is very similar to a drug.
‘Both in love and taking drugs, people are striving to stimulate the reward system in the brain.
‘This could also explain why people fall into depression or deep mourning after a separation: Due to lack of oxytocin secretion, the reward system is under-stimulated and is more or less in a withdrawal state.’
Oxytocin is also released during labour – triggering the production of breast milk – and floods the brain during breastfeeding, helping mother and baby bond.
Previous research has shown that it helps diffuse relationship squabbles and leads to married men physically distancing themselves from attractive women.
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