Published on November 7, 2013 by Paul J. Zak in The Moral Molecule
Doctors, nurses, midwives and doulas all talk about oxytocin, the hormone that surges through the mother's body to induce contractions, to produce milk, and to somehow make the stresses, length, and discomfort of labor fade away when gazing down at the new child in your arms.
I found this article in Psychology Today really informative and hope you do, too.
The "love molecule," oxytocin, is the chemical foundation for trusting others. Activated by positive social interactions, it makes us care about others in tangible ways, and it motivates us to work together for a common purpose.
After a dozen years studying the role oxytocin plays in human behavior, I thought I'd share an answer to the question I am most often asked: How can I raise my levels? As the paperback version of The Moral Molecule hits the shelves, this seems an appropriate time to unveil my top 10 list.
But first, a short neuroscience digression: The effect of oxytocin, like other signaling chemicals in the brain, is more dependent on changes than on absolute levels. Oxytocin helps us respond appropriately to our socialenvironment by changing its amounts in the brain second by second. So, rather than focus on oxytocin levels that are near zero, for most people without a positive social interaction, the better question is how can oneincrease their level of oxytocin when interacting with others and thereby increase empathy and compassion towards them.
Another neuroscience digression: Because oxytocin is so ancient (a precursor can be traced back at least 400 million years to fish), natural selection has found ways to utilize it in both the brain and the body. Unlike almost every other neurochemical we make, animal studies have shown that the change in oxytocin after a social interaction as measured in blood reflects changes in oxytocin in the brain. Thus, if an activity causes a spike in oxytocin as measured in the blood, a corresponding spike is likely occurring in the brain. It is brain oxytocin that is most responsible for effects on behavior, and blood oxytocin gives us a window into what is occurring in the brain.
The ways to raise oxytocin listed below are based on measuring changes in oxytocin in blood in humans. Many are from my lab, but some come from other sources. Variations in protocols and the moderate sample sizes for human studies inhibit comparing the reported average changes in oxytocin across published works. Instead, I'm simply listing the ways to raise oxytocin in order of my personal favorites.
Keep Reading at Psychology Today.
Hi there! I'm Erika Davis and I'm a doula working in the Seattle and South Puget Sound area.