'Love hormone' enhances spirituality in men: study

Washington, 'Love hormone' oxytocin which promotes social bonding may also enhance spirituality in men, a new study has found.

The research, from Duke University in the US, found that participants reported a greater sense of spirituality shortly
after taking oxytocin and a week later.

They also experienced more positive emotions during meditation, said lead author Patty Van Cappellen, a social psychologist at Duke.

"Spirituality and meditation have each been linked to health and well-being in previous research. We were interested in understanding biological factors that may enhance those spiritual experiences," Van Cappellen said.

"Spirituality is complex and affected by many factors. However, oxytocin does seem to affect how we perceive the
world and what we believe," she added.

Study participants were all male and the findings apply only to men, researchers said. 

In general, oxytocin operates somewhat differently in men and women, she said. Oxytocin's effects on women's
spirituality still needs to be studied.

Oxytocin occurs naturally in the body. Produced by the hypothalamus, it acts as a hormone and as a neurotransmitter,
affecting many regions of the brain.

It is stimulated during sex, childbirth and breastfeeding. Recent research has highlighted oxytocin's role in promoting
empathy, trust, social bonding and altruism.

To test how oxytocin might influence spirituality, researchers administered the hormone to one group and a
placebo to another.

Those who received oxytocin were more likely to say afterwards that spirituality was important in their lives and
that life has meaning and purpose.

This was true after taking into account whether the participant reported belonging to an organised religion or
not.

Participants who received oxytocin were also more inclined to view themselves as interconnected with other
people and living things, giving higher ratings to statements such as "All life is interconnected" and "There is a higher
plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people."

Study subjects also participated in a guided meditation. Those who received oxytocin reported experiencing more
positive emotions during meditation, including awe, gratitude, hope, inspiration, interest, love and serenity.
Oxytocin did not affect all participants equally, though. 

Its effect on spirituality was stronger among people with a particular variant of the CD38 gene, a gene that regulates the
release of oxytocin from hypothalamic neurons in the brain. 

Van Cappellen cautioned that the findings should not be over-generalised as there are many definitions of
spirituality.

The study appears in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

PTI