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The “Love Hormone” May Increase Positive Feelings of Spirituality

The “Love Hormone” May Increase Positive Feelings of Spirituality

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


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JC Fisher

“But oxytocin can have negative implications as well … male subjects who received oxytocin were more likely to express ethnocentric prejudice and xenophobia than those who received a placebo.”

So “connectedness” can also heighten the difference between in-group/out-group: makes sense.

I wonder about the connection of oxytocin and family upbringing. George Lakoff has written how those growing up w/ abusive fathers can develop the image of Strict Disciplinarian God. How does oxytocin relate to this? Do those w/ abusive fathers not get enough oxytocin in childhood?

Jay Croft

Oxytocin . . . . isn’t that the extremely addictive drug that Rush Limbaugh is apparently hooked on?

If so, why does he spew hate, not love?

David Allen

The pain drug many folks become addicted to is oxycodone, marketed as timed-release OxyContin.

Jay Croft

Thanks for the explanation, David. I was really puzzled.

Jean Lall

Thanks for posting this. Reading about the study has stirred some reflections.

Although it has been forty-four years since I first experienced the full-on rush of oxytocin that is stimulated by childbirth and breastfeeding, I have not forgotten how it felt. With my daughter at the breast, over a period of many months I not only entered into an ever-deeper communion with her, but also with all that is, with the divine, the created world and my fellow human beings. The effects were particularly noticeable during middle-of-the-night feedings, when there were fewer distractions. These effects were intensely pleasurable but also at times very painful in that I was opened to new levels of empathy with people both near and far. At that time, U.S. warplanes were dropping bombs on Indochina causing untold destruction and suffering. In the dim light I sometimes looked down at my infant daughter, so safe in my arms, and saw the face of a Vietnamese or Laotian baby whose mother’s arms could not protect her from the bombs.

The feelings of love and sense of communion were not novel — I was the same person I had always been, with the same basic values and approach to life — but they became intensified, differentiated and grounded in a new way, and the effects were permanent. To recognize the role of hormones in mediating or facilitating certain types of experiences is not to reduce spirituality to brain chemistry.

Marshall Scott

Many years ago I attended a conference at which a keynote speaker stated his expectation that some day all human behavior would be explainable in light of brain function. Somehow, I don’t think we’ll get to that point.

In more than 30 years in healthcare I have watched the evidence and the reports, and have come to recognize that brain is necessary, but it is not sufficient. If the brain is not functioning, we can’t know of any behavior, spiritual or otherwise (and, no, I’m not at this point sharing my thoughts on what might be going on between the person affected and God). However, what we know so far about brain, hormone, etc., doesn’t yet explain all reported experience when brain is functioning – so, necessary but not sufficient. I watch these studies with interest, and with a sense of humor. I don’t expect neurobiology to put me out of a job any time soon.

Jay Croft

Of course one is going to feel more “spiritual,” whatever that means, when one has pleasant, happy feelings.

This may have little or nothing to do with nasal sprays.

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