Oxytocin, a hormone that is associated with feelings of love and contentment and crucial to the mother-newborn bond, may also promote positive feelings of spirituality, according to a new study. Duke University social psychologist Patty Van Cappellen discovered that study participants receiving doses of oxytocin reported more enhanced feelings of spirituality than those who received a placebo. Van Cappellen stated “Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs” but went on to note “spirituality is complex and affected by many factors. However, oxytocin does seem to affect how we perceive the world and what we believe.”
The study defined spirituality as a “sense of connection to a higher power or to the world that gives meaning to people’s lives”.
Eighty-three men between the ages of 35 to 64 participated in the study. Each participant received either a dose of oxytocin or a placebo, administered through a nasal spray.
Researchers discovered that those who received oxytocin were more likely to report feeling that spirituality was important in their lives and that life has meaning and purpose. They were also more likely to give higher ratings to statements like, “All life is interconnected” and “There is a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people.”
Study participants also listened to a guided meditation, after which those who received oxytocin reported experiencing more positive emotions like awe, gratitude, hope, inspiration, interest, love and serenity than those who received a placebo.
The results of the study were the same no matter the participants’ membership in organized religion and remained stable a week after the hormone or placebo were given.
The study also suggests that oxytocin has a stronger spiritual effect on people with a particular variant of the CD38 gene, which regulates the release of oxytocin from hypothalamic neurons in the brain.
Other studies have also shown oxytocin to have a deep impact on spirituality, as well as generosity, altruism, and empathy, and spiritual transformation.
But oxytocin can have negative implications as well.
A Dutch study in 2010 at the University of Amsterdam found that male subjects who received oxytocin were more likely to express ethnocentric prejudice and xenophobia than those who received a placebo.
Original story from The Huffington Post