Oxytocin, the love hormone, is a hormone that increases trust and generosity, facilitates social bonding and reduces stress and anxiety. Oxytocin also has some negative impacts. Specifically, it contributes towards silos and “us” and “them” thinking.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Oxytocin: The Love Hormone

Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced in the hypothalamus (part of the brain’s limbic system), the area that deals with emotional response and memory). Among other things, it plays an important role in human bonding and relationships as well as in stress and anxiety.

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Bonding

Oxytocin contributes to group bonding. It does this by increasing trust and generosity. It has also been shown to increase positive attitudes within groups who share similar traits or characteristics.

A father holding their child - Oxytocin, the love hormone, will be involved
Oxytocin helps strengthen bonds with those close to us.

While oxytocin builds bonds and strengthens relationships within an “in-group”, it can also weaken relationship with those who are not in the “in-group”. The overall effect of these impacts can be the creation of a strong sense of “us” and “them”.

This hormonal effect has been shown to result in considerably higher levels of empathy for “in-group” members than for “out-group”. This finding has been evidenced through many experiments in which individuals receive an oxytocin boost, then watch people experiencing a negative event.

In the work place oxytocin can help create strong teams, but it can also contribute to the creation of silos.

Stress and Anxiety

In relation to stress and anxiety, oxytocin is believed to do two things.

Firstly, it acts as a bit of a “love hormone”, in that it contributes to building trust and attachment between individuals, which itself reduced stress. In fact, doing things like petting a dog can increase your levels of oxytocin, which is part of the reason that animals can help reduce stress.

Secondly, it is believed that oxytocin inhibits the amygdala which is thought to be an initiator of fear and anxiety. In doing so, it further reduces levels of stress and anxiety that individuals experience.

A person holding their dog. Oxytocin, the love hormone can reduce stress.
Spending time with animals can reduce our levels of anxiety, partly due to oxytocin.

Learning More

The brain is a fascinating thing and hugely affects our working experiences. The basics of brain anatomy may be helpful to be aware of. For example, sometimes our fight or flight response kicks in and overwhelms us. Similarly, the cognitive biases we have and our dual process ways of thinking might be of interest.

Understanding our emotions in work is helpful for all kinds of things. Doing so can help increase our emotional intelligence.

You can listen to our introductory podcast on emotional intelligence below:

The World of Work Project View

Oxytocin is an important reminder of the fact that as rational as we think we are, we are all to a lesser or greater extent at the mercy of our chemistry. While we can’t always do much about that, knowing that our hormones exist and that they affect the way we think, is an important step in efforts to be rational and positive as individuals.

The understanding of oxytocin has a particular role to play in relation to group dynamics, the building of effective teams, the inevitable rise of silos in many places and, perhaps most importantly, inclusion and diversity. Being aware of underlying chemical factors that can contribute to un-inclusive behaviors may help some people overcome these negative traits. Of course, it might also simply lead them to embrace them as natural.

We’re not neuro-scientists, but we think having an understanding of oxytocin is a helpful thing to have in the workplace.

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Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas. This post is based on general reading and there are no specific references for it. Please feel free to correct us where we’ve made mistakes!

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