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 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

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