Oxytocin is a peptide hormone that permits us to understand social groups, different social situations, effects in our behaviour, focus on positive emotion and help us to identify emotion in facial expressions. It has been demonstrated that high levels of oxytocin are related to empathy, trust, being supportive and demonstrate social interest. One of the most important moments when this peptide hormone is produced is at birth and during lactation and creates bond between mother and child. Another moment that oxytocin is released is also during sexual relationships and creates emotional connection in the couple.
The findings are that this hormone is like glue for couples as well for mothers and their newborn. Ruth Feldman studied oxytocin in couples and compared levels of oxytocin between new lovers and singles. The results were that the falling in love period is the highest level of oxytocin ever found in her studies, even more that the levels in a pregnant woman. That is just mind-blowing. Feldman also found that those couples with higher levels of oxytocin last longer, sort of finish each other sentences, express more affection and touch and laugh together more often. The part that is inconclusive is if the behaviour caused the raised levels of the hormone or the other way around.
Beate Ditze from the Zurich University made studies in couples resolving conflict with spray shot of oxytocin in their nose (goes straight to the brain) and compared with couples that didn’t have the shot. The findings concluded that the oxytocin interfere in how a couple interact with each other when resolving a conflict like housework. Now, keep in mind that if nasal shots of oxytocin might help couples for therapy, this doesn’t mean that couples with communication problems that cannot connect will miraculously be helped. There is no level of oxytocin good enough to force two people to connect.
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In other studies, Paul Zak (2000) studied the oxytocin hormone as well and concluded about the moral sentiments that we develop as human beings and how that changes a society. He found that countries with more trustworthiness are more prosperous; there are better wealth, less poverty and more economic growth. In more economic studies, infusion of this hormone boosted generosity. This is a really interesting study that I will eventually be covering.
We can conclude that oxytocin has a strong influence in our behaviour, preferences, interaction and even economy. Different studies about autism had suggested that this hormone is key for these cases since they presented reduced levels of oxytocin. Its effectiveness has also been demonstrated as a treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder. In addition to this, there are some indications about using it in couple’s therapy as well.
Maybe in the future it could be used as a standard treatment for different problems and disorders.
Ditzen, B., Schaer, M., Bodenmann, G., Gabriel, B., Ehlert, U., & Heinrichs, M. (2009). Intranasal Oxytocin Increases Positive Communication and Reduces Cortisol Levels during Couple Conflict. Biological Psychiatry, 65, 728-731.
Schneiderman, I., Zagoory-Sharon, O., Leckman, J. and Feldman, R. (2012). Oxytocin during the initial stages of romantic attachment: Relations to couples’ interactive reciprocity. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 37, 1277–1285.
Kosfeld, M.; Heinrichs, M.; Zak, P. J.; Fischbacher, U.; Fehr, E. (2005). “Oxytocin increases trust in humans”. Nature 435 (7042): 673–676.