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Oxytocin, a hormone often referred to as the "cuddle chemical" for its role in helping to foster intimate relationships—particularly between mothers and their newborns—may help people with autism to read and react to social cues, according to the preliminary results of a small study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders often have trouble engaging and interacting in social situations, frequently avoiding eye contact, for example, and previous research has also shown that people who are autistic often have lower levels of the hormone oxytocin. In this recent study, researchers from France's Center of Cognitive Neuroscience used nasal inhalers to give oxytocin to 13 individuals with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome. Afterwards, the researchers examined the study participants' reactions to social stimuli. They found that, after the oxytocin, the subjects showed significant improvement on social tasks—including making more eye contact when shown pictures of faces, and responding to other players in a ball tossing game.