One Molecule for Love, Morality, and Prosperity?
Why the hype about oxytocin is dumb and dangerous.
By Ed Yong|Posted Tuesday, July 17, 2012, at 1:17 PM ET
Excerpt: “Sue Carter, who did much of the early oxytocin research with animals, views oxytocin as part of an adaptive system that allows us to coordinate our behavior with our social situation. It’s a system that acts against the background of our histories and emotions.
The problem with oxytocin research is that too many people have been focusing on cataloging what it does (at least in some situations), rather than how it works.”
The clear link from the sensory environment to behavior is not the hormone oxytocin, it’s gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). The control of other hormones by GnRH, like the sex steroids that are linked to sex differences in behavior, includes its control of oxytocin secretion.
The epigenetic effects of nutrient chemicals on the hormone, GnRH and the epigenetic effects of pheromones, link food odors and pheromones directly to the development of the mammalian brain and behavior via what’s currently known about adaptive evolution via ecological, social, neurogenic, and socio-cognitive niche construction. These epigenetic effects also link food odors and pheromones to oxytocin secretion and to the genetically predisposed development of food preferences and sexual preferences, which includes our varying degrees of self-reported love of food or love of another person.
With oxytocin, claims simply skip what’s currently known about the basic principles of biology and levels of biological organization, which are required to link sensory cause to classically conditioned effects on hormones that affect behavior. Suddenly, we then have the automagical affects of oxytocin on behavior with no need for social neuroscience. The hormone oxytocin does it all, and that’s all that matters. The principle is KISS (keep it simple stupid), and it is not surprising that it has worked well for more than a decade’s worth of study on oxytocin.
During the next decade, after more researchers learn about how odors and the sense of smell epigenetically effect GnRH and oxytocin, others may learn they have been misled by those who told them the human sense of smell wasn’t as important to our behavior as it is in other animals. It’s the sense of smell that directly effects GnRH, which results in the indirect effects measured in levels of hormones, like oxytocin, that can only affect behaviors that are directly linked to our sense of smell, as in all mammals.