There’s a chemical that can subtly shift your childhood memories of your own mother. In some people, it paints mum in a more saintly light, making them remember her as closer and more caring. In others, the chemical has a darker influence, casting mum as a less caring and more distant parent.
All of this becomes heavily ironic when you consider that the chemical in question – a hormone called oxytocin – is often billed as the “hormone of love”, and even marketed as “Liquid Trust”. As a new study shows, the reality is much more complicated. Describing oxytocin as the “hormone of love” is like describing a computer as a “writing tool” – it does other things too, some of which aren’t pleasant.
Oxytocin is a versatile actor, whose resume includes all sorts of jobs in sex, reproduction, social behaviour and emotions. It can increase trust among people and make them more cooperative (this works in meerkats, too). It can increase the social skills of autistic people. It’s released during orgasm. It affects lactating breasts, contracting wombs and the behaviour of sheep mothers towards their newly born lambs. The list goes on: drug addiction, generosity, depression, empathy, learning, memory.