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

Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2013 Sep;26(5):474-484. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e3283642e10.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Animals
  • Biomedical Research* / ethics
  • Biomedical Research* / standards
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Love*
  • Neuropeptides / administration & dosage*
  • Neuropeptides / adverse effects
  • Neuropeptides / pharmacology
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage*
  • Oxytocin / adverse effects
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology
  • Policy
  • Sexual Behavior / drug effects*
  • Social Behavior*


  • Neuropeptides
  • Oxytocin