Commonly known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is a hormone that promotes social bonding, trust, and closeness. According to a study conducted by Duke University, the hormone may also support spirituality.
In Brief: Oxytocin Promotes Intimacy and Happiness
The hormone, which occurs naturally in the body, is produced by hypothalamic neurons and affects many regions of the brain. It activates during intercourse, childbirth, and breastfeeding—some of the most intimate human experiences. According to recent research, it may also promote empathy, social bonding, trust, and altruism.
Researchers wanted to test how oxytocin might influence spirituality. To do this, they administered the hormone to one group and gave another group a placebo. The subjects also participated in guided meditation. All participants for this study were male.
After a week of taking the hormone, those who received oxytocin had a higher likelihood of expressing the importance of spirituality in life, and recognizing that life has meaning and purpose, when compared to the placebo group. The oxytocin group also mentioned they felt more interconnected with all life. After meditation, the hormone group said they experienced heightened emotions: awe, hope, gratitude, interest, inspiration, love, and serenity.
Lead author Patty Van Cappellen, social psychologist at Duke, said participants who took the hormone also experienced more positive emotions when they meditated: “Spirituality and meditation have each been linked to health and well-being in previous research. We were interested in understanding biological factors that may enhance those spiritual experiences. Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs.” Although spirituality is complex, Van Cappellen said, “Oxytocin does seem to affect how we perceive the world and what we believe.”
Further study needs to be conducted to discover how women react to the hormone. The research study appears online in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience journal.
Jones, A., “Oxytocin Enhances Spirituality, New Study Says,” Duke Today web site, September 20, 2016; https://today.duke.edu/2016/09/oxytocin-enhances-spirituality-new-study-says.