But maybe it’s more difficult for some simply because their body isn’t programmed to respond to others in creating affiliations and relationships – perhaps a little ‘Dilbertesque' (1) but, if you follow Scott Adams’ daily cartoon strip, you see what I mean.
Since the early 1900s when Henry Dale discovered it, the hormone oxytocin has been cast in the part of being able to affect trust, bonding and even a disposition toward giving (being generous to others). Fast-forward through the 50s to the 90s, and it has also been seen to have an effect in cases of autism and anxiety disorders so might this natural substance be both culprit and savior? Well, yes, and no!
That we produce oxytocin at different levels in each of us (it is present in woman, man and child) doesn’t necessarily mean that it, alone, is responsible for mood swings, for changes in behavior and our ability to ‘make friends,’ but it does have an impact. What it does, in its own way, is help to program the brain by decreasing levels of unease or anxiety and encourage us to begin the process of forming relationships by recognizing and reacting to external stimuli (clues to you and me) about a particular social situation.
One researcher, Paul Zak (2), was able to demonstrate that dosing with oxytocin via inhalation enhanced trust of others, created increased levels of generosity, and promoted more friends, improved relationships and (even) more sex amongst women. This and other research has led to a belief that, one day, oxytocin might be used to alleviate the disorders that cause problems in the ways people react and relate to each other.
Is it, therefore, possible that using oxytocin could improve relationships in the work place? Judging by what has gone before the answer is “probably,’
Do we have a ‘Big Brother’ scenario whereby oxytocin is wafted into the work place and we all, miraculously, work so well together? Is this some fiendish plot simply to improve profits? Happily, that isn’t the case.
The big issue for many is recognizing that there is a problem in the first place – all too often, we simply think that the other person is wired differently, shrug our shoulders and get on with life. But sometimes the individual will see their MD who will diagnose stress or anxiety and sometimes he or she will prescribe oxytocin sublingual drops or nasal spray as a medication to treat a disorder. Supplements are also available online and over the counter. What oxytocin does is to tell the brain that it wants to react favorably to the situations around it – physically as well as attitudinally – to look at forming relationships rather than being alone, to trust others and to respond to external stimuli in a way that doesn’t see them as a threat.
What needs to happen is a change in attitude towards others - a subtle move from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘tend and befriend’ (this latter becoming prevalent in the early 90s as a model for behavior in social situations). If the oxytocin factor can help in any way, then it is by providing the stimulus for the brain to see social situations (whether in the work place or not) as being unthreatening and capable of solution. Along with some of the body’s naturally produced hormones and triggers, oxytocin can assist in providing a platform through which to grow into being a ‘social animal’ rather than alone.
It is important that we get along with our co-workers, not in a ‘buddy’ sense, but, because we spend so much of our time in relationships, being alone among others can be counterproductive for the work force and the individual. If externally administered oxytocin can provide the kind of stimulus that scientists and some academics believe, then it should be explored. After all, having an engine that is firing on five rather than six cylinders will do harm to the process.
For more information contact Bryan Post, Managing Editor of Oxytocin Central.
(2) Oxytocin Increases Generosity in Humans - Paul J. Zak, Angela A. Stanton & Sheila Ahmad