Interesting stuff…if you don’t already know:
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that acts as a hormone. Often considered a major player in the regulation of trust and morality, its study is revealing fascinating information about human behavior and relationships. Oxytocin is released in the body when we feel safe and connected and tells the brain, “Everything is all right.” Dr. Paul Zak has determined that the human brain naturally produces oxytocin during breast-feeding, orgasm, hugs, snuggling, holding hands, partner dance, massage, bodywork, and prayer.
Oxytocin and Trust
This finding is related to another study orchestrated by Zak, in which he found that oxytocin increases a person’s likelihood to trust strangers and to give them money. In this study, participants were asked to give away a portion of $10 they had been given by researchers. The researchers found that participants who had been dosed with oxytocin were 80% more generous than control group participants. Participants in the oxytocin condition were more trusting of the strangers they encountered.
Oxytocin and Relationships
Ditzen and colleagues designed a study using couples and found that those treated with synthetic oxytocin had far lower stress levels. Participating couples were asked to discuss a topic that was stressful and had consistently triggered conflict between them in the past. Then, researchers measured the presence of stress hormones within their bodies. They found that oxytocin improved positive communication between couples and was also related to a decrease in the presence of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress and with our flight-or-fight reflex. According to Grewen, partners with higher naturally occurring oxytocin rates also score higher on measures of partner support.
Learning about oxytocin has given me insight into my interactions with other people. One of my friends often jokes about my poor taste in men. When we are out together and I point out someone mildly attractive or “cute,” she always disagrees and voices how unappealing he is to her. We also have very different personalities. Where I am very affectionate with people I am close to, she is more reserved. Research by Theodoridou and colleagues showed that participants who were given synthetic oxytocin were more likely to perceive strangers as attractive and trustworthy when compared to control participants not dosed with oxytocin. I often wonder if the differences in personality and dating preferences between us may be governed by differences in the levels of oxytocin pumping through our bodies.
by Emiliya Zhivotovskaya, MAPP ’07, is the founder of Flourish, an organization dedicated to using research based tools to enable individuals and organizations to flourish. Emiliya fuses the best of Eastern philosophy with Western science to provide people with holistic tools to increase their happiness, well-being, and sense of flourishing