Neuroenhancement of Human Relationships

by Anna Kaminsky

Injecting oxytocin to save your marriage?

couple yelling at each otherBeing engaged in a well functioning romantic relationship is crucial for long-term health and wellbeing. However, such relationships are difficult to sustain due to a number of underlying conflicts arising from our psychobiological nature, cultural influence and environment, and the different views on relationships and commitment between two partners.

Intervention at the psychobiology level is a possible solution to this problem, and it could be done by enhancing interpersonal connection of the partners via neurochemical modulation. It is well known that neuropeptides, such as oxytocin, drive our social behavior. Oxytocin is dubbed as the universal social enhancer. Current research has shown that the application of oxytocin should be personalized, as it has the ability to cause considerably varying effects on people depending on dosages and other conditions.

The roots of marital problems

University of Oxford researchers Earp, Sandberg, and Savulescu suggest in their recent publication that the fragility of marriages today have their root in a number of factors including:

  • Human psychobiology
  • Modern environment
  • Popular media and widespread cultural and ethical views on love and relationships

The human mating system is similar to the pair bonging of other species in that it has biologically evolved to only sustain relationships to the point required to raise offspring during the peak period of vulnerability.

A number of studies and theories have suggested that unqualified sexual exclusivity, which is very rare in other animals, was not likely to have evolved in Homo sapiens.

Western societies have traditionally promoted a long-lasting, sexually exclusive love model as ideal and crucial for human survival. The discrepancy that exists between the laws of natural selection and conscious values of modern couples brings about serious tensions. These tensions manifest themselves in:

  • Frequent incidences of marriage infidelity
  • Rising global divorce rates

Evidence has sown that depending on the specific ethnic and religious groups, between 20 and 70 percent of husbands and between 10 and 54 percent of wives commit adultery, while half or more of such marriages end in divorce.

Some of the benefits of marriage include:

  • Resilience against negative effects of stressors
  • Higher health and wellbeing self-ratings
  • Lower rates of diagnosed psychological disorders
  • Greater life expectancy and career achievements

On the other hand, discords in relationships have been shown to result in emotional distress, prolonged depression periods, and even suicide.

Some of the other reasons couples feel the desire to improve their relationships are hedonic, religious, cultural, economic and cultural. To make the relationship work, couples are trying to focus on the positive aspects of being together, attend counseling and marital therapy. Studies have shown that such therapies only improve the situation for about 20 percent of couples.

Using neuroenhancement

Some neuroscientists have suggested that using direct intervention on a biochemical level should be explored. According to Savulescu and Sandberg, pharmacological administrations on the basis of the current and near- future developments in neuroscience and biotechnology can be used to improve the health of marital relationships as well as a person’s life satisfaction.

It was specifically suggested that the chemical modulation of love and bonding related neural systems should be used gradually and under the supervision by trained professionals, such as psychologists or a psychiatrists. To facilitate better communication and achieve the common goals and ideals between couples going through conflicts, neurochemical enhancers can be used together with marriage counseling.

The main focus of ongoing research is to look at the ways that oxytocin may be used to improve the quality of romantic relationships. A number of recent research studies have shown that oxytocin positively influences the brain and human behavior. There is no doubt that the institution of marriage is an important one, as it brings about positive physical and emotional outcomes for spouses. This is viewed as a sufficient ethical reason to justify neurological interventions on a biochemical level.


Author Bio:  Anna Kaminsky is a graduate student in psychology department at the University of Toronto. She works as an intern for Dr. Tali Shenfield and Associates ( helping with psycho-educational and psychological assessments for children and adolescents. She is an avid blogger and enjoys sharing her knowledge on psychology and parenting topics.