Researchers in the US set out to investigate factors that could enhance the proven benefits of meditation on general health and wellbeing. They discovered that oxytocin the so-called "love hormone" could promote positive emotions linked to spirituality, such as gratitude.
From the magic of falling in love, to the security of a relationship or our attachment to our children, oxytocin a hormone produced naturally by the body is working its magic behind the scenes. Produced by the brain in the hypothalamus, oxytocin also plays a role in childbirth, breastfeeding and sexual reproduction.
Recent research has highlighted the potential role of oxytocin in promoting empathy, trust, social bonding and altruism. In light of this, researchers from Duke University tested how oxytocin might influence spirituality by giving doses of the hormone to one group of men and a placebo to another.
They found that men who were given oxytocin were more likely to say that spirituality was important in their lives and that life has meaning and purpose. They also felt more connected to others. On the basis of a questionnaire, they were more likely to give higher ratings to statements such as "all life is interconnected" and "there is a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people."
After a meditation session, the "oxytocin group" reported experiencing more positive emotions during meditation, including awe, gratitude, hope, inspiration, interest, love and serenity.
The researchers also found that oxytocin didn't affect all participants in the same way. The hormone's effect on spirituality was stronger among people with a particular variant of the CD38 gene, a gene that regulates the release of oxytocin in the brain.
"Spirituality is complex and affected by many factors," said the study's author Dr Van Cappellen. "However, oxytocin does seem to affect how we perceive the world and what we believe."
The study is published in the journal "Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience".