Oxytocin has long had a reputation of being the “love hormone”. It engenders social bonding, attachment, intimacy, and affection. It is the chemical that gives people that warm, fuzzy, jolly feeling when they are with someone they love or care about. Recently, though, oxytocin may gain yet another moniker as the “fear and anxiety hormone”. It seems to perpetuate bad memories like an undying echo.
Oxytocin – love in the brain
Oxytocin, biochemically, is a neuropeptide hormone. Apart from the brain, it is also produced in other non-neural cells such as those in the corpus luteum and the placenta of females and the Leydig cells of males. In the brain, it is synthesized in the hypothalamus and then released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland. The amount of oxytocin, especially coming from the neural sources, is linked to the various prosocial behaviors in humans. The more oxytocin there is, the more prosocial behavior is reinforced, and hence, the more the oxytocin underpins itself as a potent love elixir.
Oxytocin as a love hormone
Prosocial behaviors pertain to the various acts and demeanor of a person that can meaningly well be sorted out as beneficial towards other people or society as a whole. They are manifested in the form of helping, sharing, and other empathetic acts of altruism. Oxytocin has been associated with the fostering of these prosocial behaviors, and thus, has been called the love hormone. Several studies have implicated it as a chemical that helped people to be more trusting1, empathetic, and generous2, and to connect with others they favour 3. In a romantic relationship, the oxytocin is reputed as the love chemical because it is produced in great amounts during the couple’s most intimate moments.
While oxytocin is regarded by many as the love hormone, it may as well be taken as a crisis chemical.4 While oxytocin makes us feel better by reducing our anxieties while we are with those we love, it may also trigger our fear and anxieties over an impending social tension.5 The anxiety or fear we feel may be rooted to the oxytocin. It does so biochemically by activating the extracellular signal regulated kinases that are involved in the stimulation of the fear pathway in the brain.5 Not only does it act when we are threatened, it also strengthens bad memories from a tragic or a heart-breaking experience. 4
When it comes to relationships, oxytocin is a chemical that gives us that ecstatic feeling associated with love and it is also the one that triggers us to feel concerned over things that may go wrong. Fear is a strong emotion as love. It is ingrained in us like an instinct. Our response to it may vary. We may respond to it either by revivifying a relationship with additional effort — or by saving ourselves from a looming bucket of heartache caused by a failed relationship. Oxytocin is not just a love hormone but also a crisis chemical that helps us to be more prudent and cautious as we toggle between love and anxiety.
— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga
1 Lane, A., Luminet, O., Rimé, B., Gross, J.J., de Timary, P., & Mikolajczak, M. (2013). “Oxytocin increases willingness to socially share one’s emotions”. International Journal of Psychology. 48 (4): 676–81. doi:10.1080/00207594.2012.677540
2 Hurlemann, R., Patin, A., Onur, O.A., Cohen, M.X., Baumgartner, T., Metzler, S., Dziobek, I., Gallinat, J., Wagner, M., Maier, W., & Kendrick, K.M. (April 2010). “Oxytocin enhances amygdala-dependent, socially reinforced learning and emotional empathy in humans”. The Journal of Neuroscience. 30 (14): 4999–5007. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5538-09.2010
3 Sheng, F., Liu, Y., Zhou, B., Zhou, W., & Han, S. (February 2013). “Oxytocin modulates the racial bias in neural responses to others’ suffering”. Biological Psychology. 92 (2): 380–6. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2012.11.018
4 Norwegian University of Science and Technology. (2017, May 18). Love hormone is released during crises: When you notice your partner is less interested than you are, your brain may send out a hormone that can help you fix the relationship. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170518104023.htm
5Northwestern University. (2013, July 22). ‘Love hormone’ is two-faced: Oxytocin strengthens bad memories and can increase fear and anxiety. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130722123206.htm