I was listening to a Bryson Tiller song this morning and being the cynic of love that I am, I cringed at the lines ‘Love holds me together’. As much as I hate clichés like these however, those lyrics may hold some truth in them. Patty Van Cappellen, associate director of the Interdisciplinary and Behavioral Research Center at Duke University in Durham, NC, and colleagues found that men given oxytocin nasal spray reported a greater sense of ‘being whole’. Afterwards, those who received the oxytocin were more likely to say spirituality was important in their lives, and that they felt connected to other living things, agreeing with statements like “All life is interconnected”.
Oxytocin is also known for its role in maternal bonding, and there is strong evidence that the hormone is important for social bonding, empathy
, trust, and sexual pleasure, hence why it is often dubbed the love hormone.
So looks like all those soppy love songs were on to something that science has only recently begun to explore. So what does this mean for us? Is oxytocin the real life version of Amortentia and therefore the love potion to solve all our relationship woes? Not so fast says Dr Radulovic (well actually I’m saying it, but you get what I mean).
Jelena Radulovic, senior author on the study and a professor at Northwestern University’s medical school claims that:
“The love drug also plays an important role in intensifying negative emotional memories and increasing feelings of fear in future stressful situations.”
This is because the hormone actually strengthens social memories, whether it be positive or nightmarish. The scientists discovered that oxytocin strengthens negative social memory and future anxiety by triggering an important signalling molecule – ERK (extracellular signal regulated kinases) – that becomes activated for six hours after a negative social experience. Although the experiment was conducted on mice, it’s safe to assume that oxytocin might have played a role in those cringe-bombs every time you remember that moment when you were depants in front of your crush.
“Love is essentially a biochemical cocktail, and a poorly understood one at that”
Research also links oxytocin to increased trust, social bonding and even a predisposition to donate to charity, thus earning its nickname ‘Liquid Trust’.
Speaking from personal, one of the most common ways to incite an oxytocin release is by hugging for more than 5 seconds. It’s these positive influences that make researchers hopeful that it could help treat mental health disorders, including autism, social anxiety disorder and schizophrenia.
Despite oxytocin’s dark side, it is undeniably an important hormone especially with its many roles in building trusting relationships, increasing one’s sense of interconnectedness and an overall kumbaya feeling, and could potentially even be used to treat schizophrenia.
My verdict? Go ahead and hug somebody today.