Under the Hood

Can Oxytocin Enhance Spirituality? Hormone Causes Increased Positive Emotions In Men, Study Shows

Oxytocin is sometimes known as the "cuddle hormone" or the "love hormone" because it is released in the brain when people snuggle up or bond socially. It may also help one find inner peace and gratitude, according to new research. 

A new study from Duke University shows that all-male participants who took oxytocin experienced more positive emotions during meditation. Additionally, men reported a greater sense of spirituality shortly after taking the hormone medication and also a week later.

spirituality Can the hormone oxytocin enhance your spiritual side? Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Phil Walter

"Spirituality and meditation have each been linked to health and wellbeing in previous research. We were interested in understanding biological factors that may enhance those spiritual experiences,” said lead author Patty Van Cappellen, a social psychologist at Duke. "Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs."

Oxytocin is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body and is stimulated during sex, childbirth and breastfeeding. Its effects on women's spirituality still needs to be investigated because the study participants were all male.

Study subjects who received oxytocin were more inclined to view themselves as interconnected with other people and living things, which is a crucial aspect of spirituality.

"Spirituality is complex and affected by many factors,” Van Cappellen said. “However, oxytocin does seem to affect how we perceive the world and what we believe."

Participants who received oxytocin also reported experiencing more positive emotions — including awe, gratitude, hope, inspiration, interest, love and serenity — during meditation.

Other recent research has highlighted oxytocin's possible role in promoting empathy, trust, social bonding and altruism.

Source: Van Cappellen P, et al. Effects Of Oxytocin Administration On Spirituality And Emotional Responses To Meditation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 2016.

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