Oxytocin and Emotion—What Is Oxytocin? Part 2

by Bryan Post

A healthy brain releases oxytocin in response to positive social cues. For example, when a mother cuddles her child, both of their brains should release oxytocin. The oxytocin travels into their bloodstreams, where it relaxes them and encourages cellular repair. It also enters the parts of their brain that process social information, making them feel secure and loving.

Humans are hard-wired to not only enjoy but to need to be close to other humans. Scientists think this is because, in the brains of highly social mammals – including monkeys, wolves, many birds and humans -- the social centers are highly sensitive to both oxytocin and dopamine, the chemical of reward-seeking and pleasure. This combination makes socializing very pleasurable and calming. When we're close to people we trust, the interaction of oxytocin and dopamine leads to us feeling happy and secure. But  there is one very big IF in all this. When we say that humans are hard-wired to connect, we mean that our brains have this potential. But the desire for social interaction and the brain's ability to release oxytocin are not automatic. This is a learned response, and it can fail to develop or its development can be thwarted.

For an excellent parenting resource for learning how Oxytocin works in the family, read about Oxytocin Parenting by Bryan Post and Susan Kutchinskas.

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