Generally oxytocin is called the love hormone; oxytocin has also been dubbed the hug hormone, cuddle chemical, moral molecule, and the bliss hormone due to its effects on behavior, including its role in love and in female reproductive biological functions in reproduction. Now a new research has found that it can raise human spiritual trusts too.
Meaning of spirituality
Spirituality is a wide concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than us, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience—something that touches us all. People may describe a spiritual experience as sacred or transcendent or simply a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness.
Few people may find that their spiritual life is intricately linked to their association with a church, temple, mosque or synagogue. Others may pray or find comfort in a personal relationship with God or a higher power. Still others seek meaning through their connections to nature or art. Like your sense of purpose, your personal definition of spirituality may change throughout your life, adapting to your own experiences and relationships.
Some spiritual questions
For many, spirituality is connected to large questions about life and identity,such as:
- Is there existence of God?
- Am I a good person?
- What is the meaning of my suffering?
- What is my connection to the world around me?
- Do things happen for a reason?
- Why have I come to this world?
- What is my goal?
- How can I live my life in the best way possible?
What is oxytocin ?
Oxytocin is normally produced by the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary. It plays a role in social bonding, sexual reproduction in both sexes and during and after childbirth. Oxytocin is released into the bloodstream as a hormone in response to stretching of the cervix and uterus during labor and with stimulation of the nipples from breastfeeding. This helps with birth,bonding with the baby, and milk production.
Oxytocin was discovered in 1952. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines,the most important medications needed in a basic health system.
Oxytocin's effects on human behavior
Studies have looked at oxytocin's role in various behaviors, including orgasm, social recognition, pair bonding,anxiety, and maternal behaviors.
In the organic chemistry, oxytocin is classed as a nonapeptide (a peptide containing nine amino acids), while it’s biological classification is as a neuropeptide. It acts both as a hormone and as a brain neurotransmitter.
The release of oxytocin by the pituitary gland acts to regulate two female reproductive functions:
The release of the oxytocin hormone during labor increases uterine motility, making the muscles of the uterus (womb) contract. Usually the release of the hormone is triggered by the widening of the cervix and vagina during labor and this effect is in turn increased by the subsequent contractions.
The review, by Inga Neumann, states that oxytocin's impact on "pro-social behaviors" and emotional responses contributes to:
- Psychological stability
One review of the evidence says oxytocin "has attracted intense attention" after the discovery of its "amazing variety of behavioral functions."
The new findings in oxytocin research
New research is showing that there may be more to the "love hormone" oxytocin than its role in social bonding. Researchers suggest it may also enhance spiritual trusts.
Men who received oxytocin reported experiencing more positive emotions during meditation. Lead research 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 spirituality than those who did not receive the hormone. This new research article was released in the journal “Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience”
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 called the"love hormone."
Now,the findings from Van Cappellen and colleagues suggest enhanced spirituality could be another effect of oxytocin on human psychology.
For their study, the team enrolled 83 middle-aged men and randomly assigned them to receive either intranasal oxytocin or a placebo.
Afterward,they answered questions about their feelings of spirituality, which, in this case refers to a sense of connection to a higher power or the world (or both)that gives meaning to people's lives. The study was "double blind,"meaning that neither the men nor the researchers knew which participants received the hormone, and which received the placebo.
The oxytocin’s spirituality link strongest for men
Men who received oxytocin were more likely to say that spirituality was important in their lives at the time of the study and also one week later, compared with those who received the placebo. This finding held even after the researchers took into account participants' emotions at the start of the study, and whether they belonged to an organized religion.
Participants who received oxytocin were also more likely to agree with statements such as"I feel that on a higher level all of us share a common bond,""All life is interconnected" and "I believe that there is a larger meaning to life."
Furthermore,the scientist team found men who received oxytocin were more likely to report feeling positive emotions during guided meditation, such as gratitude, awe,hope, inspiration, love, and serenity.
On analyzing the genotypes of all participants, the researchers found that the link between oxytocin and enhanced spirituality was strongest for men who possessed a specific variant of the gene CD38 - a gene that is known to regulate the release of oxytocin in the hypothalamus.
The leader of the research team told that further research is needed to investigate whether oxytocin produces the same effect in women.
Although they add that their findings provide the first evidence that oxytocin may plays a role in our spiritual beliefs.
"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.
Spirituality is complex and affected by many factors. However, oxytocin does seem to affect how we perceive the world and what we believe."