The Role of Oxytocin in Men’s Spirituality

Oxytocin, the “love hormone” which is noted for its possible role in promoting empathy, altruism and social bonding; may also support men’s spirituality, a new study finds.

Oxytocin  is naturally produced in the body by the hypothalamus. It is stimulated during sex, childbirth and breastfeeding.

In a recent study conducted by researchers from Duke University, participants who took Oxytocin reported more positive emotions during meditation and a greater sense of spirituality during the study and a week later.

Patty Van Cappellen, a social psychologist and associate director of the Interdisciplinary and Behavioral Research Center at Duke’s Social Science Research Institute, who is also the lead author, 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.

Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs.

The findings are limited only to men. According to Van, oxytocin operates somewhat differently in men and women. Thus, its spiritual effect on women needs to be investigated.

To test the role of oxytocin in men’s spirituality, researchers had two groups administered with the love hormone and placebo respectively. Those who had Oxytocin administered on them were more eager to tell how important spirituality was in their lives: life has meaning and purpose. They were also likely to express the statements such as “All life is interconnected” and “There is a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people.”

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Though, oxytocin did not have equal effects on all participants. But, Its effect on spirituality was stronger among people with a particular variant of the CD38 gene, which monitors the release of oxytocin from hypothalamic neurons in the brain.

Spirituality is complex and affected by many factors, says Van Cappellen, while cautioning that that the findings should not be over-generalized. However, oxytocin does seem to affect how we perceive the world and what we believe.


Patty Van Cappellen, Baldwin M. Way, Suzannah F. Isgett and Barbara L. Fredrickson. Effects of oxytocin administration on spirituality and emotional responses to meditation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2016. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsw078

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