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Study: Besides Love, Oxytocin Helps Boost Our Spirituality Too

Sep 24, 2016 04:30 AM EDT
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Oxytocin can also help boost our spirituality -- at least in men. A study recently revealed that apart from being a "love hormone," oxytocin can also affect how a person perceive the world and what they believe in.

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, according to Psychology Today. This is also stimulated during sex, childbirth and breastfeeding, and is closely associated with maternal instincts. This hormone occurs naturally in the body and is produced by the hypothalamus.

Patty Van Cappellen, the lead author of the study, said that they are interested in understanding how biological factors can enhance spiritual experiences, as shown in a previous research that spirituality and meditation are linked to health and well-being. The said study emphasized the possibility of oxytocin's role in promoting empathy, trust, social bonding and altruism.

"Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs," Van Cappellen said in an interview with Duke Today interview.

The researchers recruited 83 middle-aged men, who were split into two groups: one was administered with oxytocin hormone while the other was given a placebo.

Results are encouraging. Those who took the oxytocin hormone said that they felt "interconnected" with other people and living things. They even gave statements such as "All life is interconnected" and "There is a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people." They also said that their spirituality is important and that life has a meaning and purpose.

Meanwhile, the participants also took part in a "guided meditation," where subjects who took oxytocin reported to experience positive emotions while meditating such as hope, love, interest, awe, serenity, inspiration and gratitude.

However, the effects of oxytocin did not change all participants equally. In fact, for those with a particular variant of the CD38 gene, the effect on spirituality was stronger. CD38 gene controls the release of oxytocin from hypothalamic neurons in the brain.

Despite the results, Van Capellen said that the study should not be over-generalized. She explained that the spirituality has many different definitions.

This recent study was published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

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