A Biological Path to Love?

  • Exploring the Link from Birth to Love Researchers at the University of Virginia are analyzing birth records and DNA samples to tie levels of the "love hormone" oxytocin to later life. Image Credit: Tyler Owens, Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center

  • Exploring the Link from Birth to Love Researchers at the University of Virginia are analyzing birth records and DNA samples to tie levels of the "love hormone" oxytocin to later life. Image Credit: Tyler Owens, Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center

  • Exploring the Link from Birth to Love Researchers at the University of Virginia are analyzing birth records and DNA samples to tie levels of the "love hormone" oxytocin to later life. Image Credit: Tyler Owens, Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center

  • Exploring the Link from Birth to Love Researchers at the University of Virginia are analyzing birth records and DNA samples to tie levels of the "love hormone" oxytocin to later life. Image Credit: Tyler Owens, Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center

  • Exploring the Link from Birth to Love Researchers at the University of Virginia are analyzing birth records and DNA samples to tie levels of the "love hormone" oxytocin to later life. Image Credit: Tyler Owens, Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center

A Biological Path to Love?

A hormone tied to everything from stimulating lactation and pro-social behavior to healing wounds is at the heart of a compelling study that looks at early life experiences, body chemistry, and the human capacity to love.

Researchers Aleeca Bell and Jessica Connelly, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Virginia, are analyzing hormones in a subset of some 8,000 DNA samples taken in the UK Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children population behavioral database and genetic samples (ALSPAC). Their project seeks to establish links between hormonal variations during that critical time and postnatal interactions between mother and child.

From that work, researchers will focus on a controlled set of 576 cases to look specifically at their receptivity to and creation of the hormone oxytocin, sometimes called “the love hormone.”

The Fetzer Institute is partnering with the researchers on work to determine whether the oxytocin system and optimal birth are protective of women’s postpartum emotional well-being and capable of facilitating loving mothering behaviors in the first year after birth.

“The higher level theory being tested is that love is biological, it resides in the body, we can measure aspects of it and we can show its consequences,” says Fetzer Program Officer Mohammed Hamid Mohammed. “That’s the contribution that this particular project makes.”

The hormone oxytocin facilitates a range of desired outcomes toward optimal birth and early childhood. These include lactation, wound healing and social behavior, according to numerous studies. Low oxytocin, or an inability by receptor cells to process the hormone, has been linked to postpartum depression in mothers, a major disruption to babies’ early success.

The long-term data collected in the UK study will allow researchers to track and correlate those beginning-of-life experiences to actual outcomes in subjects’ adulthood.

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on the Natural Sciences.