Photo Credit: Roberto Pagani
The hormone oxytocin, known as the Love Hormone and sometimes the Cuddle Hormone, is responsible for a plethora of emotional and nervous responses in our bodies. It is a hormone exclusively found in mammals. It causes maternal bonds to form between mothers and their children along with romantic bonds to form between monogamous pairs. Oxytocin controls many social responses that aid bonding and even cause us to feel sympathy. Oxytocin is also known for its ability to cause subjects to feel content, reduce anxiety, and feel calm and secure around one’s mate. The presence of oxytocin is a basic survival adaptation for mammals because it causes them to trust members outside the family unit and therefore permits mating to occur among unrelated members of the same species, thus creating a healthier, more diverse gene pool.
It’s not surprising that oxytocin is only present in mammals. After all, it controls the release of milk to the nipples during lactation, helps dilate the cervix and trigger labor, and aids formation of bonds between members of species that are vital to the survival of many mammals. One particular bond that oxytocin helps initially form is that between mother
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and offspring. However, one study found that oxytocin levels are higher when first creating a maternal bond than once the bond has been made, therefore oxytocin begins the maternal behavior in the mother, but does not solely maintain it. Researchers have also found that the higher level of oxytocin in mothers during pregnancy, the stronger the bond between mother and child will be once the baby is born and the more maternal the mother will act towards the baby.
Oxytocin is also responsible for causing romantic attachment to form between a monogamous pair. Oxytocin is the cause of the anxiety a person feels when they have been separated from the one they love or, more specifically, have been monogamously paired with. When a monogamous pair is with each other, oxytocin is released. This release causes them to feel content, happier, relaxed, and trusting: basic components of “feeling in love”. However, when the pair is separated for a prolonged period of time, separation anxiety kicks in because the oxytocin which was keeping stress levels low before is no longer being release. Large amounts of oxytocin are released during sexual intercourse and orgasm, hence its name “the love hormone”. Therefore, habitual sexual intercourse between a monogamous pair works to strengthen the romantic bond and causes heightened separation anxiety.
Mammalian Evolutionary Benefits of Oxytocin
The presence of oxytocin is a basic survival adaptation for mammals because it causes stress levels to fall and trust levels to rise, thus it creates the proper conditions for bonding between non-family members or in other words, strangers who they’re instinctually wired to avoid. The social bonding between non-family members aided and maintained by oxytocin is the psychological strategy which enables humans to override our neophobia and to mate with and create a strong, life-long bond with a complete stranger. Mating with non-family members is fundamental to a species survival because it creates a healthier, more diverse gene pool. On top of social bonding that leads to mating, the maternal instincts and maternal bonds are increased by higher levels of oxytocin. The presence of oxytocin in mother is vital for mammalian survival because they have evolved to care for our young and provide them with milk and protection until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Without the oxytocin present during labor, mammals wouldn’t have maternal instincts when offspring is born, the dilation of the cervix would become impaired, milk would not be let down to the nipples during lactation (so there would be no lactation), and mothers wouldn’t have the strong bonds or urges to care for their young.
My Opinion and Conclusion
We know that oxytocin causes romantic bonds to form between monogamous humans and causes us to feel sympathy, but what about animals? The “Love Hormone” is known to form maternal bonds between rat mothers and their young and even helps rats form life long monogamous mating bonds. Is it possible that if oxytocin forms bonds and causes sympathy in humans and also causes pair bonding between animals that it could also cause animals such as rats to feel sympathy? Evidence of this would be groundbreaking because it would prove that animals are capable of feeling emotions previously thought to be solely possessed by humans.