Scientists from Claremont Graduate University found that people whose brains release more of the neurochemical oxytocin are kinder to others and are more satisfied with their lives.
They also discovered that oxytocin release increases with age, showing why, on average, people are more caring as they get older.
The research is published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience and was conducted by Dr. Paul J. Zak et al.
Oxytocin is a neurochemical widely known for its role in social attachment, interpersonal trust, and generosity.
The team wanted to understand if the release of oxytocin changed with age, as is found with some other neurochemicals that influence feelings and behaviors.
They recruited more than 100 people for the study, ranging between the ages of 18 and 99.
They were each shown a video about a little boy with cancer, which previous work had confirmed to induce oxytocin release in the brain.
Blood was taken before and after the video to measure the change in oxytocin.
The team found that participants who released the most oxytocin were more generous to charity when given the opportunity and performed many other helping behaviors.
The change in oxytocin was also positively related to participants’ empathy, religious participation, and gratitude.
They also found that the release of oxytocin increased with age and was positively associated with life satisfaction.
The finding that helping behaviors improve the quality of life is consistent with many faith traditions and philosophies.
Serving others appears to prime the brain to release more oxytocin in a positive feedback loop of increased empathy and gratitude.
The team would like to repeat this study in a more ethnically and geographically diverse sample of people to see if the findings hold for different cultures.
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