Does the hormone Oxytocin impact empathy and compassion? The answer is "Definitely."
In a recent study, conducted by Prof. Shamay-Tsoory with research students Sharon Palgi and Meytal Fischer-Shofty, in cooperation with the Cognitive and Emotional Laboratory at the Shalvata Mental Health Care Center and the Universities of Chicago and Birmingham, the researchers sought to examine whether exposure to oxytocin could increase feelings of empathy, both among people within a group and toward people from a rival or hostile group.
Oxytocin, often referred to as the bonding hormone, is a hormone known to be excreted in a variety of social situations, with previous studies showing that inhaling a synthetic version of the hormone increases altruistic feelings, for example.
“Given the previous findings, it was hard to know whether exposure to oxytocin would increase the feeling of camaraderie and thus strengthen the positive connections within the group while increasing hostility toward others, or whether the level of empathy would also be raised toward the other, hostile party,” said Shamay-Tsoory.
The study included 55 adult Jewish Israelis who were divided into two groups; one group received oxytocin while the other served as a control group. All participants looked at pictures of painful scenes (a door closing on someone’s fingers, for example) and neutral scenes, and were immediately show a slide with a name. The names included common Israeli names, common Arab names and common European names. After every picture the participants were asked to note to the level of pain the person in the picture had suffered.
“The research findings show that exposure to oxytocin leads people to feel that the other party is also a human being with complex feelings,” said Prof. Simone Shamay-Tsoory of the University of Haifa’s Psychology Department, who led the study.
The findings showed that those who had inhaled oxytocin recorded a much higher level of empathy toward the pain suffered by the Arab-named characters, a level almost identical to that shown toward the “Jews” or the “Europeans.”
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Dawn Billings is a counselor, author of over 20 books, and patented inventor who was selected by Oprah Magazine and The White House Project as one of the nation's 80 emerging women leaders in 2008. Dawn is the CEO & Founder of The Heart Link Women's Network, an International women's networking organization, and creator of The Happiness Curriculum for living an OverJOYed Life a a wonderful place to find helpful tips on how to find the Happiness you seek. Dawn is the author and architect of the Primary Colors Personality Insight tools. Dawn is also the executive director and curriculum developer for the Executive Training Resort in Arizona and an enthusiastic friend, mother, sister and wife.