With Love and Gratitude

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Oxytocin: The Love and Trust Hormone Can Be Deceptive

After love-making the oxytocin release can trigger thoughts of "It's love."

Although poets and authors have tried to describe love, in the world of neuroscience, researchers have found that the naturally occurring hormone oxytocin and love are intimately related. Often called the love drug, oxytocin plays a role in bonding, maternal instinct, enduring friendship, marriage, and orgasms. Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., says that oxytocin is a mingling of trust and physical touch, as well as love-making.

And new research tells us that oxytocin can even help us to become more accepting of others. "Oxytocin increases the ability to recognize differences between self and others and increases positive evaluation of others. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that impaired oxytocin signaling may be involved in the development and manifestation of human psychopathologies in which self-recognition is altered." Oxytocin sharpens self-other perceptual boundary  Psychoneuroendocrinology 

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The connection between love and trust

We can always expect new reseach when it comes to love.  Despite Internet claims of Love Portion No. 9 to enhance attraction through chemical oxytocin and pheromones, Dr. Breuning, professor emerita at California State University, and docent at the Oakland Zoo, where she gives tours on mammalian social behavior says:

“Trust is the authentic feeling you have in the presence of a person whom your body senses is safe. That is a good feeling that stimulates oxytocin. When trust is not authentic, your body might give you a message to be careful around that person.

“The expression, ‘got your back’ is overused but it rightly describes a person with whom you can relax your guard because they treat you well or help protect you from a third party,” she said.  “With chimpanzees you will see them grooming one another and there is reciprocal trust. If they don’t feel trust, or if a rival or intruder comes too close, that chimpanzee risks having fingers or toes bitten off — even noses or ears.” 

Falling for the bad boys

Sometimes, however, grooming is a matter of trust and protection in which the animal appears to be thinking, “If I groom a bigger, stronger monkey, even though it may not be reciprocal, if I’m attacked by a lion, the bigger monkey will protect me.”

Does the protection aspect sound familiar? In relationships, the good girl-bad boy syndrome results in many broken hearts. Women are often attracted to the bad boys because the primal instinct is very strong. They feel that bad boys protect them.

Dr. Breuning says, “A guy with confidence seems powerful. He has that self-important look that women find attractive.”

Another way that oxytocin is stimulated is through love-making, but herein lies a bit of deception. “The oxytocin released through orgasm creates a lot of trust, but only for a short period of time,” she said. “In nature most animals are bachelors, so in the act of love-making they generate an opportunity for trust.

“As with animals, humans enjoy the reward that comes from feeling good after sex. In nature — and sometimes in the world of humans — after receiving their ‘feel good dose’ the males go back to being themselves,” she said, adding, “The female view is very different with this oxytocin release.”

Here is what happens with women. After making love a woman might mistake the oxytocin release for feelings that tell her, “This is your perfect partner.” As Breuning notes, “Despite those initial feelings, it does not necessarily mean that the person is trustworthy. The perception you have at the moment is an illusion you create about the person that may or may not fit what happens next.”

Falling into cynicism, however, is not going to be productive.

Disappoionted in love or in life?

According to Dr. Breuning, writing in Getting Past the Stress of Feeling Slighted:

You can build a new neural pathway in six weeks. You can give the electricity in your brain an alternative place to flow. Every time you find yourself pondering a social disappointment, just shift your attention to another thought. A new pathway will build if you do this every day without fail for six weeks. Beyond Cynical: Transcend Your Mammalian Negativity

In the world of less than positive feelings, for those who really expect that oxytocin can improve their love life, might first take a look at attitude. It seems as if there is an interplay here in terms of love, gratitude, and all the positive feelings that intermingle to create harmonious relationships.

Best kept oxytocin secret:

To generate oxytocin, here are some thoughts: 4 Best Kept Secrets to Lasting Love

Photo courtesy of Thomas Kaufman for Les Cardes de Belville

Copyright 2013 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved

Rita Watson, MPH, is an Associate Fellow at Yale's Ezra Stiles College and a columnist for The Providence Journal.

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