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

Aggression in Dogs: The Roles of Oxytocin and Vasopressin

By Marc Bekoff Ph.D. on October 05, 2017 in Animal Emotions
New research shows oxytocin and vasopressin shape affiliation and aggression in dogs. While cause and effect haven't been teased out, controlling aggression is a win-win for all.

Why Is a Dog Combative and Aggressive toward Other Dogs?

Recent research shows that the balance between two common hormones may account for aggressive behaviors in some dogs.

Consciousness Hack 3: Kindness

By Dana Klisanin Ph.D. on October 02, 2017 in Digital Altruism
Looking for an easy way to increases happiness and energy levels? An act of kindness can go a long way.

Oxytocin Ain't Behavin' How Scientists Thought It Would

By Christopher Bergland on September 23, 2017 in The Athlete's Way
Contrary to popular belief, oxytocin (which is often called "the love hormone") also has a dark side that intensifies feelings of social defeat and fuels anxiety-driven behavior.

USA vs Norway: The One Night Stand

Are Americans more likely to have one night stands? A recent study suggests otherwise.

Why Is My Phone So Addictive?

Your phone triggers dopamine and oxytocin and relieves cortisol.

The Sexual Science of Cuddling

Experts disagree on how cuddling impacts sexual desire. But whether or not cuddling leads to sex doesn't mean that it always should.

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.