Oxytocin — the Love Drug’s Double Nature

Hans Gets Thrown Under the Bus

Alan Tabor
8 min readMar 7, 2022


Gratuitous Brian Ferry photo — Bryan singing Love is the Drug
Gratuitous Bryan Ferry PR Photo

The big picture

  • The neurotransmitter, oxytocin, both up-regulates and down-regulates empathy. It makes Us more us-like and Them more them-like.
  • Our Us vs Them reaction is fast thinking — a knee jerk response
  • Since it can’t be eliminated, it must be recognized, understood, and managed
  • Failure to do so opens us up to the worst sort of emotional and political exploitation.


Paul Zak is a researcher and the Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

In 2011 he had a hit TED talk.

Paul’s work focused on the neurotransmitter oxytocin and its role in up-regulating empathy, altruism, and morality.

I‘ll let Paul speak for himself:

I wanted to know if there’s a chemistry of morality. I wanted to know if there was a moral molecule.

After 10 years of experiments, I found it. It’s called oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a simple and ancient molecule found only in mammals. In rodents, it was known to make mothers care for their offspring, and in some creatures, allowed for toleration of burrowmates. But in humans, it was only known to facilitate birth and breastfeeding in women, and is released by both sexes during sex. Using the oxytocin inhaler, we ran more studies. We showed that oxytocin infusion increases generosity in unilateral monetary transfers by 80 percent. We showed it increases donations to charity by 50 percent.

So oxytocin connects us to other people.

Oxytocin makes us feel what other people feel.

Paul’s research has been replicated.


Around the same time, other researchers were complicating the story.



Alan Tabor

Berkeley Backpacking Biz Lifer, System Builder, Coder, Community Organizer, Music and Evolutionary Biology Geek. Sign up and my projects at http://altabor.org/