With the recent popularity of neuroscience for public consumption the neurotransmitter Oxytocin has gained the nick-name “The Love Molecule”. Who wouldn’t want more love, right? This neurotransmitter is know to be the bonding chemical released during sex, a mother and child nursing, and during heightened moments of trust. There are oxytocin nasal sprays marketed to increase our trust of others, and even make us more amorous. But recent research sheds light on the darker side of that love equation.
What you probably know about oxytocin is that it makes you feel warm and fuzzy and like you could just snuggle with that special someone all day. Released naturally during bonding activities (sex, childbirth, and breastfeeding, to name a few), oxytocin has traditionally been thought of as an agent of good feelings. In fact, it can be so powerful in making you feel good that studies suggest it can help people with autism and schizophrenia transcend social deficits. Some doctors even prescribe oxytocin off-label to treat patients for social unease. ..Research from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine published in Nature Neuroscience, however, shows that the love hormone isn’t always quite so loving. This is due to the way the hormone strengthens social memory in the brain and activates the fear response. (See full article here.)
Oxytocin not only can amplify social fear, but it’s also know for creating extreme affiliations of “us and them” which can result in racial descrimination, prejudice and bigotry. When we move neuroscience into the public domain it’s important not to oversimplify the extremely complex chemistry of the brain. More is not always better, and no one mechanism in the brain does JUST one thing. It comes down to the ancient dance we’ve been doing since the beginning of time…the dance between balancing love and fear. Molecularly they are two sides of the same continuum and its our duty to become aware of where we fall within that balancing act.
What one thing can you focus on today to minimize your fear and remind yourself of love?
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