Monday, December 19, 2011

The Moral Molecule: Oxytocin

My husband told me about a Ted Talk he listened to recently by Paul Zak on oxytocin.   Apparently oxytocin is the moral molecule -- it makes us connect with people, care about them, empathize with them, trust, be happy, be generous.  It is found only in mammals and is released in women during birth and breastfeeding, and in both men and women during sex.

Zak found, though, that men and women can easily increase their levels of oxytocin through massage, dance, prayer, weddings, social media, and hugs (he suggests 8 hugs/day to make the world a better place).

He also found that 5% of the population don't release oxytocin when stimulated.  One reason as to why people did not produce oxytocin was improper nurturing:  Half of abused women don't release it.  Stress also inhibits it.  Testosterone stunts it.  Men have 10 times more testosterone than women, and therefore, are more selfish; however, even though they are more selfish, they are also more likely to punish others for being selfish.

Zak concludes that the basis for our morality doesn't have to come from God, but from our chemical makeup.  (I say, if God is the Master Scientist, then isn't that an ingenious way to make our morality work?) 

The podcast didn't go into anything regarding fundamental differences between women and men, but I had fun contemplating the implications of the nurture/provide/protect roles of men and women as laid out in The Family:  A Proclamation to the World.  I couldn't find how much more oxytocin women have than men in general, but they do have/make more.  I would assume, then, that women are generally more moral and empathetic.  Is that why women often make better nurturers than men?  Because men have 10x more testosterone and are more selfish and want to punish others for being selfish, does that make them better protectors/better at watching out for their families?

Clearly both sexes can increase their levels of oxytocin, and there is overlap in male/female nurture/provide/protect roles, but chemically it appears there is a tendency for one sex to be a certain way over another, and that is fascinating.


This Ted Talk reminded me of another quote from the Scott article (Honor the Priesthood and Use It Well) from yesterday:
By divine design a woman is fundamentally different from a man in many ways. 2 She is compassionate and seeks the interests of others around her. However, that compassionate nature can become overwhelming for women who identify far more to accomplish than they can possibly do, even with the help of the Lord. Some become discouraged because they do not feel they are doing all they should do. . . .

In the book, Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, the authors suggest that when we women get to this overwhelming point, that we go to our husbands for counsel to figure out how to simplify. I suppose I have a bit of a pride problem here because I want to decide for myself what I can handle and what I can't.  However, I think there is real benefit in his outside perspective, and I should seek his advice more often.

Elder Scott suggests in these times of stress:
Therefore, as a husband or son, express gratitude for what your wife and mother do for you. Express your love and gratitude often. That will make life far richer, more pleasant and purposeful for many of the daughters of Father in Heaven who seldom hear a complimentary comment and are not thanked for the multitude of things they do. As a husband, when you sense that your wife needs lifting, hold her in your arms and tell her how much you love her.

8/27/12 update
I was reading a summary from the Women and the LDS Church conference over at the Juvenile Instructor blog.  I wanted to save this summary here where I won't forget it -- a sociological finding showing some basic differences between men and women, particularly regarding religion.

Session Two presented various analytical approaches to women’s agency in the contemporary church.  David Campbell presented some statistics taken from a recent survey of 500 “active” Mormon men and women.  For one, Campbell and his colleagues found no significant difference between men and women in their level of religiosity and devotion to the LDS Church, as well as a very small difference in both group’s support for an all-male priesthood.  And so, Campbell concluded, from a “sociological perspective, patriarchy works, because it keeps men tied to the religion.”  Some feminist bloggers have already jumped all over this as a kind of apologia for unquestioned patriarchy, but Campbell presented other findings indicating more complexity in Mormon women’s reactions to the their religious experiences.  These included women’s much greater preference for personal revelation over obedience to authority, and female emphasis on “helping others” as a mark of faithfulness over men’s emphasis on “sinlessness.”