Nature vs. nurture: Oxytocin

in #steemstem5 years ago (edited)
You know me, always a skeptic. I am a happy little critical thinker that never takes anything for granted and believes how nothing ever is written in stone when it comes to human biology and psychology. Yes, I used those two in the same sentence and stayed alive, who would have known? In the age of information, ignorance is a choice, remember that. Once we believed the Earth was flat and the Sun revolved around it, some men even died at the hands of the Church defending that claim, just ask Giordano Bruno. Oh, wait, you cant. Once we believed how atoms were the smallest particles and you could blame your mother for absolutely everything wrong in your life. Once we even believed that genes determine who we are and there is nothing we can do about it. Nature vs. nurture debate continues to spiral throughout the centuries filled with interesting scientific discoveries. Here and now, for the pleasure of your mind, it lands on oxytocin.

CCO image, Pixabay, author: Pexels, adapted by @zen-art

The trust hormone, social neurotransmitter, and the hormone of love are all just cute nicknames for oxytocin. In the last ten years, many scientists were interested in this little guy and devoted much of their time in researching its importance in human lives. From maternal instincts and postnatal depression, orgasms, social bonding and altruism, depression and anxiety, to supporting spirituality, oxytocin seems to have its proverbial fingers dipped in quite a lot of things.

Oxytocin was discovered by Henry Dale in 1906. while its molecular structure was determined some fifty years later, in 1952. The word oxytocin comes from Greek oxys and toketos which mean "quick birth". It was probably named in this manner because it is released into the bloodstream as a hormone when the cervix and uterus get stretched during labor.

>Oxytocin (Oxt) is a peptide hormone and neuropeptide. Oxytocin is normally produced in the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary.


Oxytocin with labels, Wikimedia Commons, public domain image

As the quote from Wikipedia so nicely says, oxytocin is normally produced in the hypothalamus. This means that cells containing oxytocin are not exclusive to the brain. They were found in tissues of ovaries, placenta, testicles, retina, and pancreas, just to name a few. Some general info that you need to know about it before we continue is:

  • a mammalian hormone

  • a neurotransmitter in the brain

  • released during labor

  • released after stimulating nipples

  • released during orgasm

  • involved in social recognition

  • associated with empathy

  • females usually have higher levels

  • released when people snuggle

  • counters the effects of cortisol

  • Pitocin is a synthetic version

Back in 2012, there was a research about people in the first stages of romantic attachment who had higher levels of oxytocin and they had them for the minimum of 6 months. 163 young adults were examined; 60 couples and 43 non-attached singles. They were in dyadic interactions and were interviewed about their relationship-related thoughts and behaviors. New lovers had substantially higher levels of oxytocin than single people. Findings of the research support evolutionary models which suggest that parental and romantic attachment share underlying mechanisms mediated by the oxytocin. You can read the full study here:

Oxytocin during the initial stages of romantic attachment: Relations to couples’ interactive reciprocity, by Inna Schneiderman, Orna Zagoory-Sharon, James F. Leckman, and Ruth Feldman

Maternal love...

When it comes to maternal feelings, 2018 was a breakthrough year because scientists from Louisiana State University discovered a group of cells in female mouse brains that are activated by oxytocin. Those cells were not found in male mouse brains.

The expression of oxytocin receptors in the cells are present only when estrogen is present too. This implies not only that the cells are involved in causing maternal behavior but also the existence of a connection between lower levels of oxytocin and postpartum depression. The good news here is how there is a huge new potential of treating postpartum depression with drugs which will target those oxytocin receptor cells. You can read the full study here:

Sexually dimorphic oxytocin receptor-expressing neurons in the preoptic area of the mouse brain by Kaustubh Sharma, Ryan LeBlanc, Masudul Haque, Katsuhiko Nishimori, Madigan M. Reid, Ryoichi Teruyama

A double-blind study from 2018 showed how oxytocin strengthens mothers' neural responses to infant and adult faces.

Researchers used EEG to measure the mothers' neural responses to faces but they first gave them either a placebo or an oxytocin nasal spray. Oxytocin increased the N170 component of the EEG signal which reflects activation of brain areas sensitive to faces. The research did conclude how oxytocin activated those areas more than the placebo but there were no specific differences between adult and children faces. Much more research is needed to confirm if this happens only to mothers (only mothers of 1-year-old infants were in the study) or to all females or even to both genders. You can read that study here:

Oxytocin promotes face-sensitive neural responses to infant and adult faces in mothers by Mikko J. Peltola, Lane Strathearn, and Kaija Puura

There is a good review from 2013 that summarized all the oxytocin’s possible relationship-enhancing effects from trust and empathy to even fidelity that you can read here:

Could intranasal oxytocin be used to enhance relationships? Research imperatives, clinical policy, and ethical considerations by Olga A. Wudarczyk, Brian D. Earp, Adam Guastella, and Julian Savulescu

Did you know that people with higher oxytocin levels were more likely to donate to refugees and people in need? If this sounds too stretched to you just remind yourself that oxytocin is a part of the happy quartet of molecules (endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin). Happy people tend to be... Well, happier. Those who are happy tend to spread their happiness around which makes these findings not that surprising to me. It is perfectly normal and even evolutionary established how people are more altruistic towards their family and friends than they are to strangers. What should be a normal stance in the 21st century is that you may prefer your family but you should not hate those which are not a part of it. This is a completely different matter so I won't digress from the topic at hand. Lets circle back to the actual research...

Researchers at the University of Bonn, the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa (USA), and the University of Lübeck tested 183 German individuals in 3 experiments. First, they gave them an option to donate (by clicking on the computer) to 50 people who were described as either local people in need (25 of them) or refugees in need (also 25 of them). Participants could either donate 0 or 1 euro with any remaining sum that was not donated going to the participants themselves. The second experiment was the same but with either oxytocin nasal spray or placebo, and the third was presenting the participants with the average donation their peers made in the first experiment before allowing them to repeat the experiment.

>"Given the right circumstances, oxytocin may help promote the acceptance and integration of migrants into Western cultures"

--Rene Hurlemann, one of the researchers

Under the influence of oxytocin in the second experiment, participants who had previously shown a positive attitude towards refugees doubled their donations to both the locals and the refugees but the oxytocin had no effect in participants who had a defensive attitude towards refugees. This implies how oxytocin increases generosity but ONLY if the altruistic attitude is present. Oxytocin can not create altruism but it can strengthen it. Social norms in combination with oxytocin are the real approach as the last experiment has shown how even people with negative attitudes donated up to 74 percent more to refugees than they did before. In this social context, oxytocin increases trust which has been demonstrated in previous studies where it has been proven that its levels in the blood increase during social interaction and shared activities. The research is available here:

Oxytocin-enforced norm compliance reduces xenophobic outgroup rejection by Nina Marsh, Dirk Scheele, Justin S. Feinstein, Holger Gerhardt, Sabrina Strang, Wolfgang Maier, and René Hurlemann

I also suggest you take a look at research which shows how oxytocin improves synchronization of movement between participants by enhancing sensorimotor predictions. Read about it here:

Oxytocin improves synchronisation in leader-follower interaction by L. Gebauer, M. A. G. Witek, N. C. Hansen, J. Thomas, I. Konvalinka, and P. Vuust

Optimism, self-esteem and the belief that a person has control over her own life (referred to as "mastery") are 3 crucial things in psychology which determine how well we deal with stress and depression. Oxytocin has been linked to them in 2011 by the researchers of UCLA who identified the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) which is associated with psychological issues and health. The oxytocin receptor gene has two versions: an "A" (adenine) and "G" (guanine) variant. When people have two "A" nucleotides or one "A" and one "G" at a specific location on the oxytocin receptor gene, they have much lower levels of optimism, self-esteem, and mastery along with higher levels of depressive symptoms than those with two "G" nucleotides.

>"Sometimes people are skeptical that genes predict any kind of behavior or psychological state. I think we show conclusively that they do,"

--E. Taylor, member of the National Academy of Sciences and director of UCLA's Social Neuroscience Laboratory.

What does it mean?

And here comes the nature vs. nurture debate all over again. Are you destined to become depressed if your genes come in certain variations or can they be overplayed by parenting, society, and self-actualization? The researchers stressed out how genes are not destiny but only factors in our development. They even said how a mother's tending can completely eliminate the potential effects of a certain gene. The environment is crucial for genes because you can have two sets of identical genes in a different environment and they will not produce the same traits. You can read this very interesting study here:

Oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) is related to psychological resources by Shimon Saphire-Bernstein, Baldwin M. Way, Heejung S. Kim, David K. Sherman, and Shelley E. Taylor


Who should you blame for your oxytocin levels in the end, your genes or your mother? How about not blaming anyone except yourself? Yeah yeah, taking responsibility for your own life is a bi*#$ but you should try it. There is something quite liberating in it. There are many factors which determine who you are but never forget that you are the one that is always in control. Do not allow all those years of evolution of your prefrontal cortex go to waste and take power over your own life. You are not governed by your genes and you most certainly are not governed by the opinion of your mother.

And now what?

Now you get to choose. You are free to blame whoever and whatever you want. That option of avoiding responsibility is there for you but is not very beneficial and almost never has positive effects. Nature, nurture or a combination of the two with a high influence of your own decision-making process? Try the last one and accept that you are the most important factor in your own story. Do you remember what I told you at the beginning of the text? I even said how you should remember it. IN THE AGE OF INFORMATION, IGNORANCE IS A CHOICE. Always read more and always learn more. Follow the latest research and experiment with different methods of keeping yourself happy and healthy. Do not aim for happiness once you achieve something but allow happiness to be your steady companion in everything you do and everywhere you go. Smile. You are gorgeous when you smile.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, CHECK OUT THESE REFERENCES:

Oxytocin from Wikipedia

Psychologists discover oxytocin receptor gene's link to optimism, self-esteem from

Oxytocin improves synchronization in leader-follower interaction from

Oxytocin and social norms reduce xenophobia from

Oxytocin strengthens mothers' neural responses to infant and adult faces from

Scientists find clue to 'maternal instinct' from

Oxytocin in the recognition of emotions from

Oxytocin from

What is the link between love and oxytocin? from

Oxytocin from

Oxytocin: Facts About the 'Cuddle Hormone' from

The orgasmic history of oxytocin: Love, lust, and labor by Navneet Magon and Sanjay Kalra

Until next time,

Image sources AND LICENCES in order of appearance:

- all images used in this post are free for commercial use, they are royalty free with the links to original images provided under them
- titles are made with the CC0 image from Pixabay that can be found here
- line divider that I use is from FREE CLIPART LIBRARY, and is here
- my bitmoji avatar was created on, visit the site to create yourown



It was nice to read from you again. It was a long time (ok maybe I was not attentive enough :p).

how nothing ever is written in stone when it comes to human biology and psychology

This actually holds for anything, in all domains of science. This is what the scientific method consists in after all.

On different grounds, is oxytocin also present in males, or is it female-only? This is not clear to me (I know I could do some research myself, but it is funnier to leave a comment ;) ).

"Given the right circumstances, oxytocin may help promote the acceptance and integration

This could lead to interesting consequences (even if only the happy fraction of the population is touched)… But again, was the test samples only made of females, or of both males and females?

That option of avoiding responsibility is there for you but is not very beneficial and almost never has positive effects.

Avoiding responsibilities… I am so surrounded by this kind of people for many many many years. I don’t understand it. If one does something wrong, well one did it… So one should just assume it and face the consequences. This is however very hard for most people (from a statistical sample made of the people I have met during my life).

well done.

I always like a dive deeper into anything related to people.
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Reading your post makes me happy - so that counts for something right! Maybe it's the people you surround yourself with - not just family but friends that make the difference in your general well being.

I agree with you - I believe the term is "with great knowledge comes great power" but really in it's simplest forms - the more you read and learn about the world the better you are equipped to deal with the daily trials it throws at you.

Good to see you back sharing epic posts that have been extensively researched - I really did miss them !COFFEEA 15

It counts indeed and I am happy that I made you happy 💚
Thanks for the COFFEEA ;)

oh oxytocin, so many mothers miss out on the wonders of when they birth in hospitals as they are given the synthetic for instead which does not work the same way at all and then all the oxytocin that is released when breast feeding helping with the let down of the milk and bonding with your baby, such an amazing hormone.
I love how you bring it back to the fact that it is our responsibility who we become xxx

Yea, it is easy to blame others and a bit harder to realize that we are responsible for who we are. Thank you for your lovely comment darling 💚

SHE'S BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACCCCCCCCCCCCCCCK. Missed you. Stoked to read you again - your posts are refreshingly AWESOME in a world of shitposts. I'm sure my oxy levels are up just to know you are here.

I love the cuddle hormone. My hubby and I are huge huggers, for 17 years we have snuggled and huggled and I swear it's the secret to our happy marriage. And I know that touch makes for happiness and INTELLIGENCE too - boy did I snuggle my little boy and I swear he's grounded, happy and smart because of it.

As for xenophobia, let's create an OXY BOMB!! We'll just bomb right wing populated areas with oxy so everyone starts to play nice again. That'll work, won't it? Won't it?

Hahahaha, an OXY happy bomb does sound interesting for some people :D
Hugging is the secret, it really is and I am happy that your oxy levels went up after reading this, that is so lovely to know 💚

Well there you are. I started writing again and one of the first things I checked was your profile. And, I saw last post 4 months ago. I thought it was a bug. So I refreshed a couple of times to check. 🤣🤣

You are right when it comes to CHOICES. It is always our CHOICE. No matter what we do or how we choose to react to certain situations in our life.

As always amazingly written post, with some super amazing editing skills. You ROCK as always. 😃

Good to see you back to writing.

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Hey you! Yes, I am back and hopefully, I will stay longer this time. Thank you for your kind words, I have to see what you have been writing about. Much love 💚

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So after all that it's still up to me whether I'm an asshole or a good guy? I'm responsible? How can that be :) ?

It's really good to see you here again. I've missed your thoughts and thinking.

Hey honey, yeah at the end it is up to you. It sucks, I know :D

Sure, there are genes responsible for some illnesses that no amount of nurture can fix but the vast majority of genes depend on the environment. If your entire family is overweight, no, that does not mean you have to be. Same goes for depression, mental illnesses and physical conditions such as diabetes and even heart problems. A LOT of issues can be prevented by a healthy lifestyle.

Sorry for missing me, I have been keeping myself busy with some projects but now I have to force myself to write more because every penny counts when steem is this low :D

coffeea Lucky you @zen-art here is your COFFEEA, view all your tokens at Vote for c0ff33a as Witness

I always love to think of Oxytocin as Hormonal Glue - it keeps our children connected to us physically, our lovers and turns hugs to sheer natural medicine. Lovely post, my dear. Welcome back.

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Hormonal glue? Interesting, it is a nice concept and a very good metaphor. Kudos!

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