Posted at 11:08 AM on September 25, 2007
by Larissa Anderson
"What are you thinking?"
Maybe the person who asked you that didn’t have enough oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a hormone at the heart of research by Jennifer Bartz and Eric Hollander, a project recently described in an issue of Scientific American.
Bartz and Hollander set out to measure what role oxytocin plays in our ability to understand what other people think. They gave 30 male adults either a synthetic form of oxytocin or a placebo, and then had the men view photos of actors expressing a range of mental states, like horrified, fantasizing and annoyed. The photos were only of the actors’ eyes – the windows of complicated emotions. The men then had to choose from four descriptive words the one that best described the emotion in the picture.
The men with the oxytocin boost did better.
Just how oxytocin helps us read people's minds is still up for question – does it ease social anxiety, increase your motivation to pay attention to other people’s facial expressions? Does it work for women the way it does for men?
Before these questions can get answered, how about testing your skills!
Here’s an online test similar to the one the 30 men got. You get 36 pictures, and at the end, you can see what questions you got right, and what eyes you completely misread.