The Role of Oxytocin in the Experience of Positive Emotions
In this fascinating piece of research, scientists looked at oxytocin's role in the experience of positive emotions in 122 adults following either a socially-focused loving-kindness training or mindfulness training for six weeks.
How kind have you been to yourself this weekend? Kindness to the self is absolutely intrinsic to the experience of positive emotions yet many of us are far better at showing kindness to others than lavishing it on ourselves. Compassion-focused therapy and loving-kindness therapy are now increasingly offered to people struggling with clinical levels of depression and anxiety among other things, often with extremely positive and even life-altering outcomes.
In this fascinating piece of research, scientists looked at oxytocin's role in the experience of positive emotions in 122 adults following either a socially-focused loving-kindness training or mindfulness training for six weeks. Throughout the six weeks, participants reported on their positive emotions daily. Some clear differences related to genetic variability emerged. Individuals with the G allele of a particular chromosome (with alleles being each of two or more alternative forms of a gene that arise by mutation and are found at the same place on a chromosome) experienced gains in daily positive emotions from loving-kindness training, whereas individuals with the T allele did not experience gains in positive emotions with either training.
This research importantly points to how genetic differences in oxytocin signaling may influence an individual's capacity to experience positive emotions as a result of a socially-focused intervention. The reasons for these differences in oxytocin signalling, of course, are not elucidated in this study with epigenetics and the 'switching on' of genes in response to environmental factors almost certainly playing a part.