Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Oxytocin Levels Predict Longevity of Love Affairs

How far down the road will your relationship go? New research suggests oxytocin levels are the key to a long-lasting relationship. (Stockbyte)

Oxytocin Levels Predict Longevity of Love Affairs

• February 13, 2012 • 9:00 AM

How far down the road will your relationship go? New research suggests oxytocin levels are the key to a long-lasting relationship. (Stockbyte)

New research links levels of the “cuddle hormone” with falling, and staying, in love.

There’s nothing like the bliss of a new romance. And yet, many experiencing such rapture find it disrupted by a nagging question: How do we know our love will last?

Newly published research suggests a possible answer: Get your oxytocin levels checked.

A team of researchers led by Ruth Feldman of the Gonda Brain Sciences Center of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University have just published a study examining the role oxytocin, commonly called the “cuddle hormone,” plays in the early stages of romantic relationships. While differentiating cause and effect is tricky, the researchers find a strong link between lasting relationships and high levels of the hormone.

Oxytocin, as they note in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, promotes trust, bonding and attachment — between adults, and between parents and their offspring. (Less appealingly, it can also promote ethnocentrism.)

Feldman’s study featured 163 people in their early to mid-20s, 120 of whom had recently initiated a love affair. (On average, their relationship had begun 2.5 months prior to testing.) All had their blood tested for oxytocin levels.

“New lovers had substantially higher plasma levels of oxytocin, as compared to non-attached singles,” the researchers report. “These findings are consistent with those reported for other mammals, particularly monogamous rodent species in which oxytocin has shown to play a critical role in the formation of pair bonds.”

Since they didn’t measure oxytocin levels before the relationships began, Feldman and her colleagues can’t say for certain whether they increased during the romantic bonding process, or whether “individuals with high levels of oxytocin are more likely to fall in love.”

Six months later, the researchers located 54 of the 60 couples and retested the 36 who were still together. Their oxytocin levels were still at the same high level, which either explains or reflects the fact they were still happily bonded.

Perhaps the most striking finding: “Couples who stayed together showed higher oxytocin levels at the initial period of romantic attachment” than those who broke up. “These findings suggest that oxytocin in the first months of romantic love may serve as an index of relationship duration,” the researchers write.

This brings to mind the intriguing possibility of oxytocin-enhanced relationship repair — couples counseling augmented by hormone injections. In previous studies, raising people’s oxytocin level (via nasal spray) “was found to increase bonding-related behavior, including … trust and empathy,” the researchers note.

That said, the study raises a chicken-and-egg question, since it isn’t clear whether high oxytocin levels lead to more closeness or whether romantic behavior increases oxytocin levels.

During their initial testing, the lovers were interviewed about their relationship and observed while talking together. The researchers found a correlation between oxytocin levels and their level of “interactive reciprocity” — which is to say, their responsiveness to one another and tendency to engage in affectionate touching.

“Oxytocin is known to function as a bio-behavioral feedback loop,” the researchers note, adding that “research in mammals showed that more touch and contact increased oxytocin receptor density.” This suggests loving couples may get into a positive routine in which “higher levels of reciprocity and touch” allow them to maintain elevated oxytocin levels, sustaining their feeling of emotional connection.

So couples may not need artificial administrations of the cuddle hormone; they may just need to cuddle.

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 31 • 4:00 PM

Should the Victims of the War on Drugs Receive Reparations?

A drug war Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa is a radical idea proposed by the Green Party. Substance.com asks their candidates for New York State’s gubernatorial election to tell us more.


October 31 • 2:00 PM

India’s Struggle to Get Reliable Power to Hundreds of Millions of People

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known as a “big thinker” when it comes to energy. But in his country’s case, could thinking big be a huge mistake?


October 31 • 12:00 PM

In the Picture: SNAP Food Benefits, Birthday Cake, and Walmart

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.


October 31 • 10:15 AM

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.


October 31 • 8:00 AM

Who Wants a Cute Congressman?

You probably do—even if you won’t admit it. In politics, looks aren’t everything, but they’re definitely something.


October 31 • 7:00 AM

Why Scientists Make Promises They Can’t Keep

A research proposal that is totally upfront about the uncertainty of the scientific process and its potential benefits might never pass governmental muster.


October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.


October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.


Follow us


Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.