Oxytocin is a neuropeptide and hormone central to the experiences of love, bonding, and befriending. Extensively studied for over a century, oxytocin may be able to promote feelings of affection and ease social anxieties. Although many mechanisms of the brain are still poorly understood, oxytocin has been well researched and presents multiple possible benefits.
Oxytocin and love effects have been studied thoroughly among prairie voles, small rodents that form intense bonds with their mates. Over an array of trials, studies, and research endeavors, scientists have learned much about the love hormone oxytocin from them. From discovery to bonding preferences, voles have demonstrated many effects and benefits of oxytocin that may translate into humans.
The oxytocin neurotransmitter was first discovered in the early 20th century, in 1906 specifically. Initially, oxytocin secreted by the body was thought of as a feminine hormone. In most clinical trials and studies, oxytocin was noted during conception, childbirth, labor, and lactation. Later in the century, a much broader range of oxytocin’s benefits would be discovered.
In 1998, a team of researchers set out to discover the links between attraction and oxytocin through the study of the prairie vole. Prairie voles are highly monogamous creatures, essentially mating for life and creating a strong emotional bond in the process. Researchers investigated oxytocin’s link to the creation of these bonds and attractions.
In order to determine the way oxytocin worked in voles, researchers on the study injected several of them with oxytocin. Following the injections of oxytocin, researchers observed the effects it had on the voles. They noted that in voles given oxytocin there was an increased tendency to bond with others. Through these observations, and neural analysis, the researchers also found a chemical mechanism for the attraction that depended on oxytocin.
A later study performed in 2004 further investigated the effects of oxytocin through the study of prairie voles. The study focused on the effects of oxytocin within male voles. Researchers attempted to determine the role that oxytocin performed in established monogamous mating patterns.
This 2004 study corroborated with the previous findings regarding prairie moles. The role that oxytocin played in stimulating bond formation between members of the species was confirmed. By activating certain receptors in the brain, known as oxytocin receptors, oxytocin was capable of promoting highly bonded mating.
These studies and research trials are easily scalable to humans. Along with many human-focused studies on the effects of oxytocin, studies on voles indicate a potential for activity across all mammals. In most mammals, the neuronal structures surrounding oxytocin are very similar. This means that anyone can potentially benefit from oxytocin, not just the prairie voles.