Oxytocin Enhances Spirituality, New Study Says

Posted on September 23, 2016

Oxytocin has been dubbed the "love hormone" for its role promoting social bonding, altruism and more. Now new research from Duke University suggests the hormone may also support spirituality.

In the study, men reported a greater sense of spirituality shortly after taking oxytocin and a week later. Participants who took oxytocin also experienced more positive emotions during meditation, said lead author Patty Van Cappellen, a social psychologist at Duke.

“Spirituality and meditation have each been linked to health and well-being in previous research,” Van Cappellen said. “We were interested in understanding biological factors that may enhance those spiritual experiences.

Oxytocin occurs naturally in the body. Produced by the hypothalamus, it acts as a hormone and as a neurotransmitter, affecting many regions of the brain. It is stimulated during sex, childbirth and breastfeeding. Recent research has highlighted oxytocin’s possible role in promoting empathy, trust, social bonding and altruism.

“Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs.”

To test how oxytocin might influence spirituality, researchers administered the hormone to one group and a placebo to another. Those who received oxytocin were more likely to say afterwards that spirituality was important in their lives and that life has meaning and purpose. This was true after taking into account whether the participant reported belonging to an organized religion or not.

Study participants were all male, and the findings apply only to men, said Van Cappellen, associate director of the Interdisciplinary and Behavioral Research Center at Duke’s Social Science Research Institute. In general, oxytocin operates somewhat differently in men and women, Van Cappellen added. Oxytocin’s effects on women’s spirituality still needs to be investigated.


Category(s):Happiness, Mindfulness, Spirituality

Source material from Duke University


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