You're too busy hyperventilating over the fact that a guy is trying to make eye contact with you. (“You mean I have to talk to him? With my voice?!”) Luckily, there's hope for all you socially-deficient-yet-fabulous ladies in the house — and all thanks to a new study on oxytocin (the love hormone). Here's the 411.
Although oxytocin's claim to fame is the warm and fuzzies it gives us about our romantic relationships, a recent study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology revealed it also makes us more accepting of strangers. A lack of oxytocin could be the reason why so many of us are socially awkward when hanging with friends (in my case, I must not have any). As for what it does to your chances of meeting a guy… there I go again, I'm all verklempt!
As part of the study, participants watched a video of their own face morphing into an unfamiliar one, and vice versa. Those who'd been given oxytocin in the form of nasal spray identified and accepted the new face more quickly when it appeared. Also, when they weren't given the spray, they rated their own face as more pleasing, but after a good ol' hormone boost, the attractiveness between the familiar and unfamiliar faces evened out (bow chicka wow wow!).
Obviously, there's still a lot of research that needs to be done — another study discovered that oxytocin has a dark side (dun dun duuun!). Scientists at Northwestern found that the hormone strengthens social memory in a specific part of the brain, so depending on how bad the experience was, it could actually make your social awkwardness worse. (When I start feeling awkward around my cat, then I know I'm in trouble.)
Now that they know both sides of the oxytocin coin, I'm sure it won't be long before they fully define the other factors that play a role — like your baseline anxiety level and other hormone levels — in order to create a successful treatment for social anxiety.
The success of this potential breakthrough is really more to do with the action we take ourselves — we can't expect oxytocin to do all the work for us. Being socially awkward can feel like a complete nightmare, creepy funhouse mirrors and all, but a hormone fix can only take us so far. It can't charm a cute guy on our behalf or go out on a date for us. It can't help us through the Shakespearean tragedy we turn rejection into either. That's all on us… which reminds me, I should really stock up on clinical strength deodorant.
We already know avoiding awkwardness just makes things worse — you can only take up crocheting for so long. Until we have our big girl pants on though, it'd be nice to have a nasal spray wingwoman to help us through the initial stress of socializing so we can build some really fab relationships.
We'll be waiting to hear from you scientists! We'll be the ones in the dark corner, fake texting someone while periodically staring at the floor. Throw us a bone, will you?
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