What is oxytocin?
You know those warm and fuzzy feelings you get when you cuddle a puppy, hug your friend, or kiss your partner? That’s oxytocin at work.
You may already have heard of oxytocin—what people have called the love hormone, cuddle hormone, or even the moral molecule. This is because oxytocin has been in the headlines, gaining a reputation for making people more trusting, generous, and even more in love. It’s a neuropeptide, meaning that it’s a protein-like molecule your brain cells use to communicate with each other. Oxytocin is also a hormone, meaning that the brain releases it into the bloodstream to communicate with the body.
Clearly, this little brain chemical has some big jobs—it plays a role in sex, childbirth, bonding, social interaction, emotions, and many other functions important to us mammals. Our brains produce it naturally, but there’s also synthetic oxytocin that is sometimes used therapeutically.
Either way, oxytocin seems to not only nudge us towards more pro-social behavior, but it can also play tricks on our minds. Let’s look at some ways that this complicated brain chemical affects the way we feel and act, and how we can coax the brain to release more of it for those warm, fuzzy feelings: