‘Love Hormone,’ How it works in Hospitality?


Source: The Muslim Sunrise, Summer 2017 Volume

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Hillel was a Jewish teacher of Jesus’ time, when a potential convert approached him and asked to be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot, Hillel summarized as follows, “That which is hateful to you do not do to others. All the rest is commentary. Now go and learn.” I would like to say the same thing about the holy Quran. I believe that the basic theme of every divinely revealed scripture is love and compassion and all scriptures reflect that. I have written an article about the message of compassion and service in the holy Quran, Two Hundred Verses about Compassionate Living in the Quran[1] and also about the Bible, A Message of Compassion and Love from the Holy Bible.[2]

The famous Persian poet Rumi is known to have said, “Love is the bridge between you and everything.”[3] It is not only the key to our interaction with each other or our hospitality and morality, but, also our eventual relationship with the Divine or our spirituality.

The best and the least selfish love known to mankind is the maternal love. Oxytocin, a hormone that has been dubbed as the “love hormone,” is secreted in the highest concentrations from the maternal brain during pregnancy, delivery and lactation.  There is a large body of research showing that it is one of the main causes of the strong maternal-child bond.

The same hormone is working for the maternal instinct in all the mammalian species, offering another of the thousands of proofs for Darwinian evolution. I believe that God brought His grand plan of millions of species of life, with humans at its apex, on our planet earth, through natural laws and mechanisms and insights in those details guide our lives in so many different ways.

Virtually all vertebrates have an oxytocin-like hormone that supports reproductive functions and a vasopressin-like hormone involved in water regulation. The two genes are usually located close to each other (less than 15,000 bases apart) on the same chromosome. The two genes are believed to result from a gene duplication event; the ancestral gene is estimated to be about 500 million years old.

Today I want to review how the ‘love hormone’ not only governs the maternal instinct but many aspects of human love and compassion, which manifest in so many different ways, including hospitality for our relative and friend guests.

Pregnant women with higher levels of oxytocin during their first trimester bonded more strongly with their babies after they were born, according to a 2007 study in the journal Psychological Science. And compared with other women, women with higher levels throughout their pregnancy and in the first month after birth reported engaging in more behaviors such as singing, feeding and bathing their infants in specific ways that promoted an exclusive relationship between the two, the study found.[4]

Comparing urine levels of oxytocin and a related hormone called vasopressin in biological and adoptive children who lived in Russian and Romanian orphanages, researchers found that oxytocin rose in biological children after having contact with their mothers. The study, published in 2005 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that oxytocin levels remained static in the adoptive children in the same situation, suggesting a physiological basis for why some adoptive children have difficulty forming secure relationships.[5]

Oxytocin has been implicated not only in maternal child bonding and romantic relationships but all sorts of human and even human animal interaction.

In one study, reported in the June 2, 2005, issue of Nature (Vol. 435, No. 7042, pages 673-676), behavioral economist Michael Kosfeld, PhD, of the University of Zurich, Zak and colleagues had 29 pairs of male college students play an investment game with tokens in which one member of the team acted as an investor and the other as a trustee. Half of the participants inhaled an oxytocin spray and the other half a placebo.

Of the investors who whiffed oxytocin, about half gave all of their tokens to the trustees, and most of the rest handed over the majority of their tokens. By contrast, only a fifth of investors on placebo parted with their tokens, while another third offered most of theirs.[6]

In another study, published in the Nov. 7, 2007, issue of the online Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE (Vol. 2, No. 11), Zak and colleagues found an even stronger relationship between oxytocin and generosity than the team had found earlier with trust. Here, participants who inhaled either oxytocin or a placebo were asked to decide how to split a sum of money with a stranger. Those who received the hormone offered the stranger 80 percent more money than those receiving the placebo, the team found.[7]

Oxytocin has been shown to help people with autism improve their ability to recognize emotion, and Wallum found that the same receptor variant that increases risk for marital crisis in women is linked to social problems in girls. These include trouble getting along with others and a preference for being alone.[8]

Adam Guastella, a clinical psychologist at University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Research Institute, and a pioneer in studies of how oxytocin can help people with autism, thinks the hormone can also help people in couple therapy by facilitating empathic communication. His research has shown that people who get oxytocin are more focused on positive emotion: they remember happy faces better than angry and neutral ones. Research by others has shown that oxytocin increases trust, generosity and our ability to identify emotion in facial expressions. It is perhaps by these mechanisms that the hormone improves communication.[9]

In a 2003 study, both humans and dog oxytocin levels in the blood rose after five to 24 minutes of a petting session. This possibly plays a role in the emotional bonding between humans and dogs.[10]

Oxytocin may have a sinister side to it as well. It may be the basis of some of our prejudices. For example, oxytocin can increase positive attitudes, such as bonding, toward individuals with similar characteristics, who then become classified as “in-group” members, whereas individuals who are dissimilar become classified as “out-group” members. Race can be used as an example of in-group and out-group tendencies because society often categorizes individuals into groups based on race (Caucasian, African American, Latino, etc.). One study that examined race and empathy found that participants receiving nasally administered oxytocin had stronger reactions to pictures of in-group members making pained faces than to pictures of out-group members with the same expression.[11] This shows that individuals of one race may be more inclined to help individuals of the same race than individuals of another race when they are experiencing pain.

Oxytocin has also been implicated in lying when lying would prove beneficial to other in-group members. In a study where such a relationship was examined, it was found that when individuals were administered oxytocin, rates of dishonesty in the participants’ responses increased for their in-group members when a beneficial outcome for their group was expected.[12]

Both of these examples show the tendency to act in ways that benefit people with which one feels is part of their social group, or in-group. During conflict, individuals receiving nasally administered oxytocin demonstrate more frequent defense-motivated responses towards in-group members than out-group members. Further, oxytocin was correlated with participant desire to protect vulnerable in-group members, despite that individual’s attachment to the conflict.[13]

Similarly, it has been demonstrated that when oxytocin is administered, individuals alter their subjective preferences in order to align with in-group ideals over out-group ideals.[14]

The in-group bias is evident in smaller groups; however, it can also be extended to groups as large as one’s entire country leading toward a tendency of strong national zeal. A study done in the Netherlands showed that oxytocin increased the in-group favoritism of their nation while decreasing acceptance of members of other ethnicities and foreigners.[15]

People also show more affection for their country’s flag while remaining indifferent to other cultural objects when exposed to oxytocin.[16] It has thus been hypothesized that this hormone may be a factor in xenophobic tendencies secondary to this effect. Therefore, oxytocin appears to affect individuals at an international level where the in-group becomes a specific “home” country and the out-group grows to include all other countries.

In conclusion, maternal love, romantic love, hospitality, love for one’s race and patriotism, all seem to share a common thread, a common mechanism, the ‘love hormone.’ Greater understanding of the biological mechanisms may give us newer insights to embellish our love and hospitality. It may also offer possible cures for racism, xenophobia and exclusion politics of the right wing politicians.


[1] https://themuslimtimes.info/2015/11/19/two-hundred-verses-about-compassionate-living-in-the-quran-5/

[2] https://themuslimtimes.info/2017/01/31/a-message-of-compassion-and-love-from-the-holy-bible-4/

[3] http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/10/29/20-quotes-by-rumi-that-will-make-you-feel-the-love/

[4] http://www.livescience.com/35219-11-effects-of-oxytocin.html

[5] http://www.livescience.com/35219-11-effects-of-oxytocin.html

[6] researcher Shelley E. Taylor, PhD, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Social Neuroscience Lab

[7] researcher Shelley E. Taylor, PhD, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Social Neuroscience Lab

[8] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/be-mine-forever-oxytocin/

[9] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/be-mine-forever-oxytocin/

[10] Kuchinskas Susan, The Chemistry of Connection: How the Oxytocin Response Can Help You Find Trust, Intimacy, and Love p65.

[11] Sheng F, Liu Y, Zhou B, Zhou W, Han S (February 2013). “Oxytocin modulates the racial bias in neural responses to others’ suffering”. Biological Psychology. 92 (2): 380–6. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2012.11.018. PMID 23246533.

[12] Shalvi S, De Dreu CK (April 2014). “Oxytocin promotes group-serving dishonesty”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 111 (15): 5503–7. doi:10.1073/pnas.1400724111. PMID 24706799.

[13] De Dreu CK, Shalvi S, Greer LL, Van Kleef GA, Handgraaf MJ (2012). “Oxytocin motivates non-cooperation in intergroup conflict to protect vulnerable in-group members”. PloS One. 7 (11): e46751. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046751. PMC 3492361Freely accessible. PMID 23144787.

[14] Stallen M, De Dreu CK, Shalvi S, Smidts A, Sanfey AG (2012). “The herding hormone: oxytocin stimulates in-group conformity”. Psychological Science. 23 (11): 1288–92. doi:10.1177/0956797612446026. PMID 22991128.

[15] De Dreu CK, Greer LL, Van Kleef GA, Shalvi S, Handgraaf MJ (January 2011). “Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108 (4): 1262–6.

[16] De Dreu CK, Greer LL, Van Kleef GA, Shalvi S, Handgraaf MJ (January 2011). “Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108 (4): 1262–6.


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