Therapists have long known that people who've had a traumatic experience feel the need to talk about what they've been through. This process is called 'social sharing' and can take place for days, weeks, months or years after the event.
Typically, social sharing involves 'just the facts' of what happened; emotions and feelings are shared to a much lesser extent. But sharing 'just the facts' of what happened doesn't help make people feel better. What really makes the difference is the 'social sharing of emotions' (SSE).
SSE, like the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) - known variously as 'the hug hormone', 'the moral molecule' and 'the natural love drug' - has a calming and bonding function in humans. So a team of researchers decided to examine whether it followed that administering oxytocin might ease this therapeutic and powerful 'social sharing of emotions'. Their study, published in the recent issue of the International Journal of Psychology, is the first to investigate the biology of emotional sharing.
The researchers took 60 adult men and asked them questions about their various personal characteristics. They then gave them a dose of placebo or OT and made them wait for 45 minutes while watching a movie featuring friendship and camaraderie. They were then asked to recall a past negative experience that still currently affects them, and rate its emotional intensity at the time. Participants then described the event on paper, and rated their current negative emotional intensity; they also had to indicate whether they would agree to share the related facts and emotions with another person.