Date Published: 11 March 2011
Serotonin activity affects adults' assessment of others' romantic relationships
The judgements people make about the intimacy of other couples' relationships are influenced by the brain chemical serotonin, according to a recent study carried out at Oxford University, England.
The team from Oxford University, along with colleagues from the University of Liverpool and King's College London, manipulated the serotonin activity in healthy adult volunteers, and then asked them to make judgements about sets of photographs of couples.
More specifically, the experiment involved giving amino acid drinks to two groups of volunteers. One group received drinks that contained tryptophan, the amino acid from which serotonin is made in the brain. The other group received drinks that did not contain tryptophan. Differences in the judgements made by the two groups reflected changes in serotonin activity. The 22 volunteers who received the drink without tryptophan consistently rated the couples in the photos as being less 'intimate' and 'romantic' than the 19 participants who received the control drink.
The results of this study raise the possibility that lower serotonin activity in people with depression and other psychiatric conditions could contribute to changes in the way they perceive personal relationships.
" Serotonin is important in social behaviour, and also plays a significant role in psychological disorders such as depression" explained Professor Robert Rogers of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University, who led the research.
" We wanted to see whether serotonin activity influences the judgements we make about peoples' close personal relationships."
Problems with social relationships, and a feeling of social isolation, are a feature of depression in some people. It is possible that alterations in brain systems – such as serotonin – contribute to these difficulties by changing the way people think about relationships with partners. Understanding about this is important because supportive close relationships are known to protect against the development of mental illnesses and to promote recovery in those affected by psychiatric conditions. The opposite is also true: dysfunctional relationships can be triggers for those at risk of these conditions.
" Although this is only a small study, the same patterns may well extend to the way we perceive our own relationships," said Professor Rogers.
" Serotonin activity may affect people's ability in depression to maintain positive or intimate personal relationships."
Reference to Paper:
'Serotonergic activity influences the cognitive appraisal of close intimate relationships in healthy adults' by Amy Bilderbeck and colleagues has been published online in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Source: Oxford University, England (via Press Release)