The Love Hormone

15 Feb

Just some quotes from the NeuroLogica blog. I have nothing to add other than to say that the existence of oxytocin is yet another strike against both psi and religion. The latter of the two thinking that explaining and expounding on love is only within their purview.

As you cuddle with your mate your brain receives a comforting surge of oxytocin, reinforcing your feelings of attachment. More intimacy gives your pleasure centers a shot of dopamine, strongly reinforcing the behavior. Your brain becomes increasingly bathed in dopamine, serotonin, and other hormones and neurotransmitters, resulting in a suite of physiological and behavioral responses evolved to maximize the probability of inserting your genes into the next generation.


The scientific view of love and romance can seem anything but romantic, and we can’t even let you have the scientific explanation without pointing out our current uncertainty and the need for more research. The fact is – love and romance are biological/neurological phenomena. They are being studied and we are slowly building a reductionist picture of exactly how and why we feel and act the way we do.

This view, however, is not incompatible with romance. It is a rationalist romantic view. Understanding biology is not inconsistent with embracing and even reveling in the human condition. Feelings of love and attraction are not diminished at all by an understanding of the possible evolutionary advantages of those feelings, or the underlying brain chemistry, any more then they are enhanced by ascribing those feeling to fate or magic.

Understanding the biology of love, rather, can be empowering. Sometimes we make decisions that are not in our best interest because we are in the grip of neurotransmitters and evolutionary signals of which we are not consciously aware. Thinking that those feelings are due to some magical design of the universe or something akin to fate, or to forces outside of your control, are convenient justifications for giving in to feelings that may be leading you to bad decisions. It’s helpful to understand that evolution does not need you to be happy, just prolific.


Recent studies have begun to investigate oxytocin’s role in various behaviors, including orgasm, social recognition, pair bonding, anxiety, and maternal behaviors. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”. The inability to secrete oxytocin and feel empathy is linked to sociopathy, psychopathy, narcissism and general manipulativeness.

If human beings or love were fundamentally supernatural, then the dearth of oxytocin should not be linked with sociopathy. While correlation does not necessitate causation, we should also be weary of multiplying hypotheses unnecessarily; especially hypotheses that have a piss poor record of explanation.

In closing:

“What? Rainbows are caused by refracted sunlight and not magical pixie dust? This means rainbows no longer have any value”

(H/t Tim).

1 Comment

Posted by on February 15, 2012 in cognitive science, psi


One response to “The Love Hormone

  1. Timothy

    February 16, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Thanks for the hat tip! One thing I will say: oxytocin is complicated, and it isn't all about feely-goody emotions and positive social outcomes. Ed Yong wrote about it recently.

    I created an account at New Scientist and got temporary access to the article. Presumably others can do the same.

    PS: Leaving comments using a WordPress login is totally fucked on Blogger. Doesn't work. ::sadpanda::

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