Oxytocin and Spirituality

Peter ForsterPsychobiology

Oxytocin is a fascinating neurohormone which has been linked to parent-child bonding as well as romantic love, and to darker emotions such as the rejection of “foreigners”. A recent article suggests that it may also be an important factor in the development of spirituality.

Joel Yager, writing in the NEJM Journal Watch Psychiatry, summarizes the study this way:

Investigators enrolled 83 men who were not regular meditators (mean age, 45; 87% white; 51% Christian; 39% agnostic or atheist), in a randomized, double-blind laboratory study.

Participants received intranasal oxytocin or placebo 40 minutes before filling out scales on spirituality and religiosity. After a 20-minute guided meditation, they completed measures of implicit and explicit positive and negative emotions experienced during the meditation. Spirituality measures were repeated a week later.

Analyses controlled for positive and negative emotions, disposition toward mindfulness, and baseline religious affiliation. After meditation, oxytocin administration significantly increased positive emotions and feelings that spirituality was important in one’s life; spirituality findings were maintained 1 week later… Spirituality ratings and oxytocin–spirituality measure interactions positively correlated with the presence of certain single nucleotide polymorphisms in a gene controlling oxytocin release in the hypothalamus.

For more information

Social Intelligence and Oxytocin

Oxytocin in Humans


Van Cappellen P et al. Effects of oxytocin administration on spirituality and emotional responses to meditation. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2016 Oct; 11:1579. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsw078)