The Shalom of Neurochemistry

Oxytocin rewards us for human connection. /

Prior to becoming a counselor in a program that treats domestic violence offenders, I hadn’t thought much about oxytocin, the hormone often referred to as “the trust molecule.” It is a neurochemical often associated with the reproductive cycle, and its synthetic form, pitocin, is used to induce labor. Flooding the brain during sex, childbirth, and breastfeeding, it creates a sense of calm and security, promoting bonds in the family unit. Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus, and it’s then released by the pituitary gland when we experience touch or intimacy. Most of us experience its impact throughout the day, triggered by a variety of human experiences.

Reflecting on the role of this hormone, I notice the calming effect when my daughter leans against me in the checkout line, and the ataractic sensation as my wife rubs my back when I’m anxious. Oxytocin also works in subtler ways: it can be released through an enjoyable conversation with a stranger at the post office. Oxytocin is at work when I meet with other men at my church, experiencing the tranquility of community.

Oxytocin reminds us what we were created for: connection. This hormone delivers a reward, like we experience from sex or food, just for being connected to others. The benefits of oxytocin are not limited to mood; it aids digestion, regulates heart rate, reduces drug cravings, improves social skills, and has been shown to increase generosity. Scientists have even demonstrated that it encourages monogamy; one study showed that under the influence of oxytocin, committed men were more likely to keep their distance from attractive women. We are meant to pursue monogamy, tenderly care for our children, enjoy close friendships, ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 26 / July 9, 2015
  1. Editors’ Note

    Issue 26: The trust molecule, Luther’s forerunner, and the joy of watching a soccer great.

  2. The Long Legacy of a Roasted Goose

    Proto-reformer John Hus was burned at the stake 600 years ago this week. We are all Hussites now. /

  3. The Messi-ness of the World

    The universe is losing a bit of its enchantment for me. But then there’s Barcelona’s forward. /

  4. Cast

    ‘The hobbyist / aims a drum / of fierce / aluminum.’ /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 26: Links to amazing stuff /

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