Keep Calm & Cuddle On


Written by Rubeena Basra | UTS Staff Writer | SQ Online (2013-14)

Winter is the season for wearing cozy socks, drinking hot cocoa, snuggling in a fuzzy blanket and cuddling. Recent studies have shown that cuddling with a person can actually be biologically beneficial for an individual’s health. In fact, cuddling leads to the release of a chemical hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin is an essential hormone that plays a key role in the biological process of bond forming, different types of attachment, emotional reactions, and so much more.

What exactly is oxytocin? Pregnant women, or others who are familiar with the process of pregnancy, would know that oxytocin is a hormone that is released by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. The release of oxytocin is stimulated during childbirth and through the process of lactation (secretion of milk from the mammary glands) [1]. Its levels are increased during contractions and nursing to help build significant mother-baby bonding. It is also partly responsible for getting couples to adjust into the new parent phase by releasing increased doses in both males and females during sexual activity, giving their bonding a chemical boost [1]. Although this is a major role of oxytocin, this hormone has other chemical uses that aids in healthy relationships among individuals.

The molecular structure of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that aids in forming relationships. Source

The molecular structure of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that aids in forming relationships. Source

The release of oxytocin is also surprisingly triggered during cuddling. This ‘cuddle chemical’ aids in making individuals open with their feelings, trusting, and more inclined to form and maintain romantic relationships [2]. This is significant because the release of this hormone is crucial in studying social-relation conflicts among individuals. It plays a significant role in creating pair bonding, that is, making a couple feel closer and more intimate.

So why cuddle? The release of oxytocin will help relieve some stress and make individuals feel happier. Researchers studied various couples who had various types of relationships, such as a rocky relationship or a happy relationship. The effects of an increased dose of oxytocin in the individuals showed that the couples were more attuned with each other, in that they finished each other’s sentences, laughed together, touched each other more often, smiled more, maintained more eye contact, were open with their feelings, and communicated more effectively [2].

Oxytocin has been studied to provide many benefits when it comes to forming and maintaining relationships. It’s released during the various stages of pregnancy and parenting such as childbirth, lactation, nursing, mother-baby bonding, and sexual activity among couples. Cuddling also causes the release of oxytocin and benefits relationships in many ways. It influences the way couples interact by intensifying their emotions in positive ways such as increasing trust, generosity, and communication [2]. This hormone could have meaningful implications including developing healthy social behavior, developing empathy, recognizing and understanding emotion in facial cues, resolving conflict, and improving communication [1]. So when you are feeling gloomy or sad in this cold weather, relieve some stress and do your body some good. Oxytocin provides many overall benefits in building healthy relationships, so keep calm and cuddle on.

References

  1. Kluger, J. (2010, May 02). Study: A Dose of Oxytocin Increases the Cuddles. Time Magazine.
  2. Gravotta, L. (2013, Feb. 12). Be Mine Forever: Oxytocin May Help Build Long-Lasting Love. Scientific American.


About

Human Development Major with a Biology minor. I am a 4th year and have been working with Saltman Quarterly for a year now. I was previously an Under The Scope staff writer and am now a Saltman Quarterly staff writer. I enjoy writing and spreading exciting news about biology to UCSD students and faculty as well as the greater San Diego community.