What is Oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It regulates social interaction and sexual reproduction, playing a role in behaviors from maternal-infant bonding and milk release to empathy, generosity, and orgasm. When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels increase; hence, oxytocin is often called "the love hormone." In fact, the hormone plays a huge role in all pair bonding. The hormone is greatly stimulated during sex, birth, and breastfeeding. Oxytocin is the hormone that underlies trust. It is also an antidote to depressive feelings.

For all its positivity, however, oxytocin has a dark side. Or, more accurately, it plays a more complex role in human behavior than is commonly thought. As a facilitator of bonding among those who share similar characteristics, the hormone fosters distinctions between in-group and out-group members, and sets in motion favoritism toward in-group members and prejudice against those in out-groups. Ongoing research on the hormone is a potent reminder of the complexity of biological and psychological systems.

Recent posts on Oxytocin

Why Flowers Make Us Happy

Flowers trigger the dopamine of excitement and the oxytocin of social trust. A wildflower hike triggers all the happy brain chemicals at once!

Who Do You Trust?

Whether we trust others with our hearts or our heads, trust is an elixir for our relationships.

Epigenetics of Music: A Karaoke vs. Bach Genetic Conflict?

A study of a rare imprinting disorder has wide implications for our appreciation of music—Bach and karaoke included!

Face-to-Face Connectedness, Oxytocin, and Your Vagus Nerve

A new study reports that oxytocin "love hormone" levels surge during a romantic crisis. These findings reaffirm a link between the vagus nerve and our need to "tend-and-befriend."
Bill Davidow

Why Dogs Don’t Use The Internet

By Bill Davidow on March 13, 2017 in Psychology of the Virtual World
What we can learn from dogs about managing the internet.

52 Ways to Show I Love You: Helping

By Roni Beth Tower Ph.D., ABPP on February 26, 2017 in Life, Refracted
Helping someone you love, through providing needed assistance, filling their request, assuming their task, or even taking care of yourself can enhance intimacy, respect, gratitude.

7 Tips for Embracing Love While Keeping Oxytocin in Check

By Rita Watson MPH on February 16, 2017 in With Love and Gratitude
The way to finding love is by giving love.

When Your Teenager's "In Love"

By Steven Schlozman M.D. on February 13, 2017 in Grand Rounds
Why do you think we call first love a crush?

From Stress to Genes, Baboons to Hormones

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on February 04, 2017 in How To Do Life
An Interview with Robert Sapolsky

The Neurochemistry of Power Conversations

You will recognize this situation: The boss gathers all the teams reporting to business unit heads, including you, for a meeting. Why doesn't it work?

Chronocentrism

You can end up feeling battered by the tide of history until you know how your brain creates its neurochemical response to public events.

The Brain Can Work Against Abuse Victims

By Rhonda Freeman Ph.D. on January 18, 2017 in NeuroSagacity
The neurochemistry of love and attachment, particularly in the presence of abuse, can seal a victim to a grim future with a malignant partner.

How to Listen with All Four of Your Ears

Your communication to others may depend on which message you’re hoping they receive.

52 Ways to Show I Love You: Touching

Touching brings our earliest and most basic connection to another person.

The Connection Between Empathy Toward Others and Ethics

Never underestimate the interconnection between ethics and empathy toward "others."

Why We Love

Love exists in human groups across the globe. And there are good evolutionary reasons for this fact. Here’s why.

You CAN Marry the Right Person

By Roni Beth Tower Ph.D., ABPP on December 20, 2016 in Life, Refracted
Using psychological and personal data, I argue against Alain de Botton's article, "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person," named the most popular New York Times feature of 2016.

Chemistry Lessons

Our insights about the chemical nature of relationships and conversations are more than a metaphor—they are a reality!

What a Couple's Pillow Talk Can Reveal

How is what your behavior after sex connected to your relationship satisfaction or the hormonal influences of sexual activity?

The Dark Side of Oxytocin

Normally thought of as purely positive in its effects, oxytocin is also implicated in religion, nationalism, and xenophobia.

You Have Power Over Your Brain Chemistry

Your brain has an operating system inherited from earlier animals. It rewards you with "happy chemicals" when you step toward meeting needs and alarms you with "unhappy chemicals.

Oxytocin, Spirituality, and the Biology of Feeling Connected

By Christopher Bergland on September 28, 2016 in The Athlete's Way
A groundbreaking new study from Duke University has identified a link between oxytocin and feelings of spiritual connectedness.

Key Brain Protein Has Implications for Psychiatric Disorders

Levels of the key brain protein, BDNF, vary as predicted by the diametric model of mental illness: lower in psychotic spectrum disorders, but higher in autistic spectrum ones.

5 Secret Ways to Keep Your Partner Faithful

Have you ever wondered about the unconscious behaviors we perform in order to stay faithful? And to keep our mates faithful? Find out which of these behaviors you perform.
L Breuning

Why Winning Feels Good

The facts of our brain’s natural competitiveness have been submerged by a warm and fuzzy view of nature. The truth can help us manage our quirky neurochemical operating system.

Are the Results of Animal Therapy Studies Unreliable?

By Hal Herzog Ph.D. on August 04, 2016 in Animals and Us
Most studies of oxytocin ("the love hormone") do not have enough subjects to produce valid results. Unfortunately, this is also true of animal-assisted therapy research.

3 Surprising Facts About the Dangerous Power of Love

We think of love as an entirely positive emotion, but there are some surprising downsides to being in love.

7 Habits of a Happy Brain

You can build new neural pathways by feeding your brain new experiences. Here's how to choose experiences that stimulate each happy chemical.

Why Hug?

By Darcia Narvaez Ph.D. on July 03, 2016 in Moral Landscapes
Cuddling with mom. Wrestling with dad. Hugging family members. Loving and playful touch contribute to well-being.

3 Reasons Why You Should Cuddle More

Cuddling can help you rewrite your history of trust, and enable you to enjoy feeling safe more often.