Is love really something magical and undefinable, something that proves that human beings are on a higher spiritual/evolutionary level than any other species, or is it just something that results from a hormone that the body secrets and that is found in other animals as well? Well, Oxytocin is sometimes called the “Love Hormone.” It is a hormone that gets released by the body when a person feels love. But now there is scientific research that may prove otherwise.
It is in every romantic comedy ever made. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, something happens to separate them, but in the end, love conquers all and they live happily ever after. The audience believes the ending because people believe that love is something magical. But is it?
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Research on oxytocin led by Devanand Manoli, a psychiatry researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, involving prairie voles was published in the journal Neuron.
Harvard explains that oxytocin is a hormone that’s produced in the hypothalamus and released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland. Its main function is to facilitate childbirth, which is one of the reasons it is called the “love drug” or “love hormone.” Oxytocin both stimulates the muscles of the uterus to contract, and boosts the production of prostaglandins, which also increase uterine contractions. Women whose labor is slow to proceed are sometimes given oxytocin to speed the process. Once the baby is born, oxytocin helps to move milk from the ducts in the breast to the nipple, and foster a bond between mom and baby.
Prairie voles are small mammals that live in dry fields that contain a cover of grasses and weeds in grasslands found in the central United States and Canada. They live for up to two years and when mating they set up a territory under their control and keep other voles away from it.
“We were all shocked that no matter how many different ways we tried to test this, the voles demonstrated a very robust social attachment with their sexual partner, as strong as their normal counterparts,” said Manoli.
And he told NPR, “Oxytocin might be ‘Love Potion No. 9,’ but one through eight are still in play, right? There’s more there than that one entry point.”
Researchers conducted comparative studies between socially monogamous and non-monogamous vole species that revealed what they described as “striking differences” in oxytocin receptor (Oxtr) expression in brain regions thought to be important for social attachment and implicated natural variation within species in specific aspects of pair-bonding and attachment behaviors.
Pharmacological studies from multiple groups have shown that Oxt is sufficient to induce pair-bonding behavior in otherwise naive voles and the administration of Oxtr-antagonists induces loss of these behaviors. Viral manipulations of Oxtr expression in specific brain regions of prairie voles also recapitulate findings from such pharmacological studies.
Taken together, the researchers said these findings suggest a critical role for Oxt signaling via its cognate receptor, Oxtr, in driving pair-bonding behaviors in this species. In other words – love.
The researchers explained that this means bad news for those looking for some sort of “magic bullet” treatment for people who suffer from cognitive impairments and so have trouble with love.
“For at least the last 10 years, people have been hoping for the possibility of oxytocin as a powerful therapeutic for helping people with social cognitive impairments due to conditions ranging from autism to schizophrenia,” said Devanand Manoli. “This research shows that there likely isn’t a magic bullet for something as complex and nuanced as social behavior.”