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Love Hormone Temporarily Treats Face Blindness

Update Date: Sep 06, 2013 04:03 PM EDT

The "love hormone" may help treat face blindness, a new study suggests.

New research revealed that inhalation of the hormone oxytocin may temporarily improve prosopagnosia or face blindness.

"Prosopagnosia is characterized by a severe impairment in face recognition, whereby a person cannot identify the faces of their family or friends, or even their own face," lead researchers Dr. Sarah Bate said in a news release.

The latest study involved 10 adults with prosopagnosia and 10 healthy adults. Participants visited the laboratory on two occasions. Participants were asked to inhale oxytocin nasal spray on the first visit and a placebo spray on a second visit.

Participants sat quietly for 45 minutes after inhaling the spray.

Afterwards participants took part in two face processing tests: one testing their ability to remember faces and the other testing their ability to match faces of the same identity.

The study revealed that participants with prosopagnosia achieved higher scores on both face-processing tests in the oxytocin condition. However, researchers found no improvement in control participants, suggesting that hormone may be more effective in those with impaired face recognition systems.

Researchers noted that the initial ten participants with prosopagnosia had a developmental form of the condition and have never suffered brain damage.  Researchers said this type of face-blindness affects one in 50 people.

"This study provides the first evidence that oxytocin may be used to temporarily improve face recognition in people with either developmental or acquired prosopagnosia. The effects of the hormone are thought to last 2-3 hours, and it may be that the nasal spray can be used to improve face recognition on a special occasion. However, much more research needs to be carried out, as we don't currently know whether there are benefits or risks associated with longer-term inhalation of the hormone," Bates said.

The findings were presented Friday at the British Psychological Society's Joint Cognitive and Developmental annual conference at the University of Reading.

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