That Little Love Hormone Does Much More To Us Than Previously Thought
Here’s a thing we know: hormones are largely responsible for how we feel. One of the most well-known and studied among them is oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone because it helps us bond with our loved ones. What a team of scientists recently brought to light, though, is that its role is not restricted to this.
What Roles Does The So-Called Love Hormone Play In Our Relationships?
A new study titled “Oxytocin and vulnerable romantic relationships”, which was carried out by a team of experts and led by Nicholas M. Grebe, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, found that oxytocin (a hormone released by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure in the brain) isn’t just responsible for inducing contractions during childbirth, nor does it only help sexual arousal between partners or help in the bonding process between mother and child.
It is also the hormone our bodies secrete when we fear our relationship is in jeopardy, maybe in an attempt to restore things.
The study involved a total of 298 participants, divided into two groups. The one group consisted of 75 couples from the U.S and the other was made up of 148 people who had a romantic partner. They were asked to think about their partner and how they wish their partner would connect with them in the relationship. Their levels of oxytocin were measured both before and after the task.
The researchers found that the participants who were very interested in maintaining their relationship showed increased levels of oxytocin after the task, which is no surprise as it further proves that the love hormone plays a big role in social bonding.
The Surprise Findings
What caused some surprise, though, was that in the measurements made simultaneously between couples, the partner who was more invested in the relationship showed higher levels of the love hormone than the one who was less interested.
According to study co-author Prof. Steven W. Gangestad, also of the University of New Mexico Department of Psychology: “What’s implied here is a statement about what oxytocin is doing: it’s perhaps fostering attention to and motivation to ‘take care of’ the relationship.”
Be that as it may, it seems that oxytocin, the love hormone, can only do so much, as the findings regarding partners whose relationships that were heading to a breakup showed there was no elevated level of oxytocin.
All In All
The experts who conducted the study support that their findings are strengthening the “identify and invest” theory when it comes to romantic relationships, according to which our brain makes an active effort to fix our relationships once it identifies it’s in a precarious state.
“We think that viewing oxytocin in this way can help us understand why it plays a role in other kinds of interdependent social relationships – new romances, mother-infant bonds, as two examples.
The idea is that emotionally salient relationships, especially when those relationships are vulnerable, are elicitors of the oxytocin system”, concluded Nicholas M. Grebe.