Oxytocin Receptor Gene’s Link to Optimism, Self-Esteem, Coping with Stress

Shelley Taylor

Shelley Taylor

Shelley E. Taylor, distinguished professor at UCLA identified the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) link to optimism, self-esteem and “mastery” — the belief that one has control over one’s own life.
These three elements are required to manage stress and depression.

Reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), she notes that oxytocin, a hormone that increases in response to stress, is associated with good social skills such as empathy and social behavior, especially under stress.

In one location on the oxytocin receptor gene, two variants occur:

•    “A” (adenine) variant, associated with increased sensitivity to stress, poorer social skills, depressive symptoms and worse mental health outcomes

•    “G” (guanine) variant, associated with optimism, self-esteem and mastery.

This effect was demonstrated in 326 volunteers, who completed measured by self-assessments and saliva samples for DNA analysis.
Those with two “A” nucleotides or one “A” and one “G” at this oxytocin receptor gene location, showed lower levels of optimism, self-esteem and mastery and higher levels of depressive symptoms than people with two “G” nucleotides,

Taylor notes that genes may predict behavior, but do not determine it because many environmental factors and other genes interact with oxytocin receptor gene variants in stress, coping, and emotional behaviors.

These findings suggest people who train themselves to appraise situations more optimistically, to see themselves more worthy, capable and competent, are able to improve ability to cope with stressful events.

Taylor’s book, The Tending Instinct: Women, Men, and the Biology of Relationships, outlines the importance of cultivating socially nurturing environments to mitigate genetic vulnerabilities.

She notes that “a mother’s tending can completely eliminate the potential effects of a gene; a risk for a disease can fail to materialize with nurturing, and a genetic propensity may lead to one outcome for one person and the opposite for another, based on the tending they received.”

Her most influential work demonstrated a “self-enhancement bias” in her book, Positive Illusions: Creative Self-Deception and the Healthy Mind ,
she explained that “most people regard themselves, their circumstances, and the future as considerably more positive than is objectively likely…. These illusions are not merely characteristic of human thought; they appear actually to be adaptive, promoting rather than undermining good mental health.”

In contrast, Rick Hanson argues that a negative bias is more adaptive to survival than a positive bias.
He notes that negative stimuli produce more neural activity than do equally intense positive ones, and are perceived more easily and quickly: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”

His book, Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time, recommends meditation to tame automatic negative thoughts.

-*Where have you seen examples of “the tending instinct,” positive illusions and negative bias in the workplace?

See related posts on Hormones and Emotional Expression:
•    Oxytocin, Testoterone: Oxytocin Increases Empathic Work Relationships, Workplace Trust, Generosity
•    Cortisol, Testosterone: Thoughts Change Bodies, Bodies Change Minds, Roles Shape Hormones: “Faking Until It’s Real”

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Blog: – Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

©Kathryn Welds

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6 thoughts on “Oxytocin Receptor Gene’s Link to Optimism, Self-Esteem, Coping with Stress

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