A new study has linked life satisfaction to the chemistry in our brains. People who release more neurochemical oxytocin are kinder to others and tend to be more satisfied with their own life. Additionally, oxytocin release increases with age, showing why, on average, people are more caring as they get older. These findings are consistent with many religious philosophies, in which satisfaction with one’s life is increased by helping others.
People whose brains release more neurochemical oxytocin are kinder to others and are more satisfied with their lives. This is what emerges from new research, published in Frontiers in behavioral neurosciencewho also found that oxytocin release increases with age, showing why, on average, people are more caring as they get older.
“The results of our study are consistent with many religions and philosophies, where life satisfaction is increased by helping others,” said lead author Dr Paul J Zak of Claremont Graduate University.
“Participants in our study who released more oxytocin were more generous to charity when given the opportunity and performed many other helping behaviors. The change in oxytocin was also positively correlated with empathy, religious participation and the gratitude of the participants. “
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Oxytocin is a neurochemical widely known for its role in social attachment, interpersonal trust and generosity. Zak and his colleagues wanted to understand whether oxytocin release changed with age, as is found with some other neurochemicals that affect feelings and behaviors.
“We have previously shown a link between how kind and generous people are, known as prosocial behaviors, and the release of oxytocin,” said Zak. “Older people spend more time volunteering and donating a larger share of their income to charity than younger people, so we wanted to see if there was a neurochemical basis for these behaviors.”
The researchers recruited more than 100 people for the study, ranging in age from 18 to 99. Each was shown a video of a child with cancer, which previous work had confirmed to induce the release of oxytocin in the brain. Blood was drawn before and after the video to measure the change in oxytocin.
Participants were given the opportunity to donate some of their earnings from the study to a childhood cancer charity, and this was used to measure their immediate prosocial behavior. We also collected data on their emotional states to provide insight into their overall satisfaction with life, ”Zak explained.
Be kind, love life
“The people who released the most oxytocin in the experiment were not only more generous to charity, but they also performed many other helping behaviors. This is the first time that a sharp change in oxytocin has been related to past prosocial behaviors, “Zak said.
“We also found that oxytocin release increased with age and was positively associated with life satisfaction.”
The discovery that helping behaviors improve the quality of life is consistent with many faith traditions and philosophies. Serving others appears to prepare the brain to release more oxytocin in a positive feedback loop of increased empathy and gratitude.
Zak would like to repeat this study in a more ethnically and geographically diverse sample of people to see if the results hold for different cultures.
“We would also like to conduct a long-term measurement of neurophysiology using non-invasive wearable technologies to see which specific activities increase people’s satisfaction with life,” he concluded.