How music affects hormones
The velvety voice of Elvis still makes hearts flutter – and a new study shows that the King’s classics cast light on part of the essence of being human – the mystery of emotion and human interaction.
In a University of Utah study, people with and without the rare genetic disorder William syndrome (WS) (a neuro-developmental disorder caused by the lack of 25 to 28 genes, which causes anxiety and difficulty sustaining relationships) listened to music to gauge emotional response through the release of oxytocin and arginine vasopressin (AVP), two hormones associated with emotion.
The study results, published in PLoSOne, have great potential in understanding human emotional and behavioural systems, and in future treatments of illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, WS, and possibly even autism, according to Dr Julie Korenberg, senior author on the study.
Before different pieces of music were played, the participants’ blood was taken to determine a baseline level for oxytocin. Blood also was drawn while the music played and afterward. When the samples were analysed, the researchers were surprised to see that the oxytocin levels, and to a lesser degree AVP, had not only increased but begun to bounce among WS participants while among those without WS, both oxytocin and AVP remained largely unchanged. Interestingly, the oxytocin level in a woman who’d listened to the Elvis 1950s classic “Love Me Tender” skyrocketed compared to participants who listened to different music.
“The association between abnormal levels of oxytocin and AVP and the altered social behaviours found in people with Williams Syndrome points to surprising, entirely unsuspected deleted genes involved in regulating hormones and human sociability,” Korenberg said. “It also suggests that the simple characterisation of oxytocin as ‘the love hormone’ may be an overreach. The data paint a far more complicated picture.
“The study lights the way to making rapid progress in treating WS, and perhaps autism and anxiety through regulation of these key hormonal players in human brain and emotion, oxytocin and vasopressin. Future work may allow us to know how to adjust the dial on the OT and AVP system and its effects in different brain regions in ways to relieve suffering and improve the lives of those with the disorder.”
This Nature & Health natural health news item was sourced from materials provided by the University of Utah.
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