Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that’s released when two humans bump uglies. And apparently when it comes to men, the hormone increases spirituality, and makes them feel closer to that nebulous force we call God, according to a new study from Duke University.
Linked to good things like altruism, social bonding, and generally warm feelings, Oxytocin is known among scientists as the “love hormone.” As part of the study, which was published in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers gave middle-aged men doses of Oxytocin, who then reported a preponderance of heady, spiritual thoughts immediately afterward. According to Duke Today, the blissful feelings lasted as long as a week.
When queried about their feelings, respondents gave answers typical of middle-aged dudes you might find at a yoga commune. When asked, for example, if “there is a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people,” or if “all life is interconnected,” many respondents answered in the affirmative, and enthusiastically so. Their answers differed very slightly, regardless of whether they belonged to a certain religion, researchers noted.
There was a control group in the study -- all of whom were given a placebo, disguised as Oxytocin -- and no one in that group reported higher spiritual feelings of any kind.
The study’s lead author, Patty Van Cappellen, a social psychologist at Duke, said: “Spirituality and meditation have each been linked to health and well-being in previous research...we were interested in understanding biological factors that may enhance those spiritual experiences.”
According to Van Cappellen, Oxytocin has a different effect on females. Scientists are still investigating those effects -- a necessary task, given that the chemical is released when women breastfeed and during childbirth.
Van Cappellen cautioned against over-generalizing the effects of the love hormone, however. For example, the effects were not universal throughout the study. Respondents who recorded the highest degree of spirituality all shared a certain variant of the CD38 gene, which according to Duke Today, “regulates the release of oxytocin from hypothalamic neurons in the brain.”
Alluringly though, the research confirmed that those more affected by Oxytocin all shared a belief that life has meaning and purpose -- which sounds about right for someone who just had sex.