We are more satisfied with life as we age, thanks to oxytocin

summary: A new study links higher levels of oxytocin to increased life satisfaction as we age.

source: the border

A new study has linked life satisfaction with the chemistry in our brains.

People who release more of the neurochemical oxytocin are kinder to others and tend to feel better about their lives. Additionally, oxytocin secretion increases with age, which explains why, on average, people care more as they age.

These findings are consistent with many religious philosophies, in which satisfaction with one’s life is enhanced by helping others.

People whose brains release more of the neurochemical oxytocin tend to be kinder to others and more satisfied with their lives. This is the discovery of a new research published in Frontiers in behavioral neurosciencewho also discovered that oxytocin secretion increases with age, which explains why, on average, people care more as they age.

First author Dr. Paul J. Zack from Claremont Graduate University stated that “our study findings are consistent with many religions and philosophies, in which satisfaction with one’s life is enhanced by helping others.”

“Participants in our study who released the most oxytocin were more generous to charity when given the opportunity and performed many other helpful behaviors. Change in oxytocin was also positively associated with participants’ empathy, religious engagement, and gratitude.”

oxytocin

Oxytocin is a neurochemical widely known for its role in social bonding, personal trust, and generosity. Zack and his colleagues wanted to understand whether oxytocin secretion changes with age, as found in some other neurochemicals that influence feelings and behaviors.

“We’ve previously shown a link between how generous and kind people are, which is known as prosocial behavior, and the release of oxytocin,” Zack said.

“Older adults spend more time volunteering and donate a greater percentage of their income to charity than younger adults, so we wanted to see if there is a neurochemical basis for these behaviors.”

The researchers recruited more than 100 people for the study, ranging in age from 18 to 99. Each was shown a video of a young child with cancer, which previous work confirmed stimulates the release of oxytocin in the brain. A blood sample was taken before and after the video to measure the change in oxytocin.

“Participants had the option to donate some of their earnings from the study to a childhood cancer charity, and this was used to measure their immediate prosocial behavior. We also collected data about their emotional states, to provide information about their overall life satisfaction,” Zack explained.

Be kind, love life

“The people who released the most oxytocin in the experiment were not only more generous to charity, but also performed many other helpful behaviors. This is the first time that a clear change in oxytocin has been associated with prior prosocial behaviors,” Zack reports.

The finding that behaviors that improve quality of life are consistent with many religious traditions and philosophies. The image is in the public domain

“We also found that oxytocin release increases with age and is positively associated with life satisfaction.”

The discovery that behaviors that improve quality of life are consistent with many religious traditions and philosophies. Service to others appears to stimulate the brain to release more oxytocin in a positive feedback loop to increase empathy and gratitude.

Zack would like to repeat this study in a more ethnically and geographically diverse sample of people to see if the results are appropriate for different cultures.

“We would also like to do a long-term measurement of neurophysiology using non-invasive, wearable techniques to find out what specific activities increase people’s life satisfaction,” he concluded.

About this news search for old age and happiness

author: Susanna Burgelman
source: the border
Contact: Susanna Burgelmann – Frontiers
picture: The image is in the public domain

original search: open access.
“Oxytocin secretion increases with age and is associated with life satisfaction and social behaviors” by Paul J Zak et al. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience


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This shows a brain scan highlighting the ventromedial prefrontal cortex

Oxytocin release increases with age and is associated with life satisfaction and social behaviors

Helping behaviors and life satisfaction generally increase after middle age. Identification of the neural substrates of prosocial behaviors in the elderly may provide additional insights into these changes over the life course.

The current study examines the endogenous release of oxytocin (OT) in participants aged 18-99 years and its relationship to prosocial behaviors. OT has been shown to influence trust, altruism, charity and generosity, however the effect of age on OT release has not been well established.

Blood samples were obtained before and after video stimulation from 103 participants to examine the effect of OT on prosocial behaviors.

We found that OT release after a social peak increases with age (s = 0.49, s = 0.001) and that OT moderated the relationship between age and donations to charity.

We tested durability by examining three additional prosocial behaviours, money and goods that had been donated to charities within the past year and volunteering in the social sector. OT attenuated the effect of age on all three prosocial behaviors (note < 0.05).

The analysis also showed that participants’ change in OT was positively associated with life satisfaction (s = 0.04), empathic anxiety (s = 0.015), personal gratitude (s = 0.019) and religious commitment (s = 0.001).

Our findings suggest that the neurochemistry that helps maintain social relationships and lead fulfilling lives appears to strengthen with age.

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