Why do some people cheat why others remain faithful?
It’s undoubtedly a complicated question, filled with more variables than the flight of a Ping-Pong ball in a room filled with Toblerone. However recent research has suggested that an essential part of this monogamy conundrum may be down to a neurotransmitter called Oxytocin. It’s production and the role meditation plays towards its effectiveness, is starting to provide us with some answers.
Oxytocins Effect On Relationships
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter responsible for driving some of our more primal instincts, hunger, sex, sexual attraction, social bonds, trust and confidence. All behavioural characteristics that are influenced to some degree by the production of Oxytocin.
Nicknamed the “cuddle hormone”, it was first discovered by scientists who found increased levels in women during childbirth and breastfeeding, helping them to form and nurture the bond between mother and child.
Over the years scientists have shown that Oxytocin plays a role in a number of social interactions from facial recognition, promoting feelings of trust and last but certainly not least, achieving an orgasm.
When we kiss, cuddle or have physical contact with another person, our brain produces more of the hormone that manifests itself as a “longing” in men and a feeling of safety and security in women. The more we partake in these activities, the greater our unity becomes.
Its been found to play an important role in our emotional wellbeing and the forming of solid relationships. The production of Oxytocin occurs throughout a multitude of situations, from couples in love, to groups of soldiers. Helping to develop the “band of brothers” dynamic so intrinsic in many of the armed forces.
Oxytocin & Fidelity
A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience (1) has found a possible link between Oxytocin and fidelity in men. 57 men were given increased levels of Oxytocin via a nasal spray. Women (in the guise of a doctor) entered the room and asked the participants a number of questions. The questions were irrelevant, but they were looking to see how the men interacted with the women.
On average the men in a relationship felt less comfortable the closer the women came towards them. Their “comfort zone” was 6 inches further away than the group who took a placebo. One hypothesis is that this ancient neurotransmitter that can be traced back to our early days as a fish, is natures answer to fidelity in men, biologically encouraging them to protect their partner and/or family.
In the animal kingdom, scientists (2) suppressed Oxytocin in a group of prairie voles and much to their surprise, they found that the once faithful mammals who spent their entire lives with one mate, became rampant cheaters. Highlighting that Oxytocin could be an important factor in regulating social bonds.
How Meditation Influences Oxytocin
Meditation is well documented to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety. Its growing popularity is an answer to help treat a wide variety of conditions that are triggered by excessive and prolonged periods of stress.
Evolutionary speaking the human body wasn’t designed for traffic jams, 8 hour working days, sitting at a desk, constant deadlines, mortgage payments, pension plans and so on. By calming our nervous system on a regular basis we’re essentially re-setting our bodies back to what nature intended. It allows all the complicated processes in our bodies to function at their best, including our hormones.
When we’re under stress our body releases the stress hormone cortisol. It’s part of our fight or flight mechanism and shuts down all functions that aren’t absolutely necessary for fighting or fleeing. This process disrupts the effective functioning of Oxytocin and its positive effects are essentially cancelled out.
With the body in a state of calm we not only produce more Oxytocin, but it happens more frequently. The sensations of love, nurturing and positivity that are essential for improving relationships are given the best chance of becoming the dominant emotions.
Uvnäs Moberg is a professor of physiology at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Her research and book titled The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love, and Healing, found that the hormone also lowers levels of stress hormones, regulates the balance of ﬂuids in the body, and stimulates cell division and the healing of wounds.
She postulates that just as food becomes bone and energy in our body, healthy relationships and the production of Oxytocin has a cumulative effect on our overall sense of health and wellbeing. Helping to form strong social bonds and encouraging us all to behave like a faithful prairie vole.