It’s sometimes called the cuddle or love hormone. Oxytocin (Ox-E-toe-SIN) is released by the pea-sized pituitary gland at the base of the brain when we snuggle, and it promotes bonding and social connectiveness. Even playing with your dog raises oxytocin levels in your blood.
Some of us, however, have too little of the love hormone. And the root of that problem might date to one’s childhood.
A study by researchers at Baylor University shows that adults whose parents divorced when they were children had substantially lower oxytocin levels than those adults whose parents stayed married. Researchers say this might explain why children of divorced parents often report have difficulty forming attachments later in life.
Levels of the hormone are sensitive to stressful events in our lives. Previous research shows mood disorders, anxiety and substance abuse are associated with the children of divorce.
In the Baylor study, scientists recruited people ages 18 to 62. About 27% of them were the children of parents who divorced when the participants were, on average, 9 years old.
Each participant completed a questionnaire and provided a urine sample through which their oxytocin levels were measured. Those who were the children of divorced parents viewed themselves as less confident, more uncomfortable with closeness and less secure in relationships than those from homes where their parents remained married.
The study’s authors say they are often asked whether it matters how old a child is at the time of the divorce. They pointed to that question as an area of future research.
We can’t relive our childhood, but we can cuddle our way to stronger relationships as adults — even with our dogs.