Tag Archives: Oxytocin

Stress Increases Women’s Performance and Empathic Attunement, but not Men’s

Livia Tomova

Livia Tomova

Task performance, social interaction skills, and empathic attunement increase for women under stress, but not for men.
Women seek social support (“become prosocial”), but men turn toward themselves and away from others when they experience stress, according to University of Vienna’s Livia Tomova and Claus Lamm with Bernadette von Dawans and Markus Heinrichs of University of Freiburg, and Giorgia Silani, International School for Advanced Studies, SISSA-ISAS, Trieste

Claus Lamm

Claus Lamm

Tomova’s team evaluated the impact of stress on 20 women and 20 men, elicited by Clemens Kirschbaum, Karl-Martin Pirke, and Dirk Hellhammer’s (Universität) Trier Social Stress Test, in which participants delivered a speech and performed mental arithmetic in front of an audience.

Bernadette von Dawans

Bernadette von Dawans

Tomova and team measured “self-other distinctions” during three types of tasks:

  • Imitated movements  (perceptual-motor task): “Move objects on a shelf according to the instructions of a director,” requiring participants to “disentangle their own visual perspective” from that of the director,
  • Identifying  one’s  own  emotions or  other  people’s  emotions  (emotional  task),  or
  • Making a judgment from another person’s perspective (cognitive task).
Markus Heinrichs

Markus Heinrichs

As a comparison, 20 men and 20 women completed non-stressful activities like “easy counting.”

Women and men showed similar physiological reactions to stress, but stress decreased men’s performance in all tasks.
In contrast, women’s performance on all tasks improved under stress

Giorgia Silani

Giorgia Silani

Specifically, women who experienced stress demonstrated more accurate understanding of others’ perspective than non-stressed women and men.
However, men under stress showed less ability to accurately detect others’ probable thoughts and feelings.

Walter Cannon

Walter Cannon

Studies of stress were pioneered by Harvard’s Walter Cannon, who described the fight-or-flight response in1914, and popularized by Hans Selye of Université de Montréal.  

Hans Selye

Hans Selye

People can cope with stress by:

  • Seeking social support or
  • Reducing “internal cognitive load” that requires additional coping efforts.

One way to reduce “internal cognitive load” is to disconnect from others’ perspective and emotional experience through reducing empathy.
Besides this process of “mentalizing,” empathy also requires people to distinguish their representations of themselves from representations of others.

Clemens Kirschbaum

Clemens Kirschbaum

Women under stress “flexibly disambiguate” mental representations of themselves from others and increase “self-other distinction,” found Tomova’s research group.
This cognitive style enables women to more accurately perceive others’ perspective, enabling more empathic interaction with others in a “tend-and-befriend” approach.

In contrast, men under stress typically turn inward with “increased egocentricity” to conserve mental and emotional resources for “flight-or-flight” responses, leading to less adaptive social interactions.

Dirk Hellhammer

Dirk Hellhammer

These differences may be rooted in gender-specific learning experiences and biological differences including higher levels of oxytocin (a hormone that mediates social behaviors) among women who experienced stress, noted Tomova’s research team.
As a result, women may seek more frequently seek social support, may interact with others more empathically, and may be rewarded with external help in a reinforcing cycle.

Nikolas Rose

Nikolas Rose

Social support can improve performance and reduce stress, probably because the brain is “wired for sociality,” according to King’s College London’s Nikolas Rose and Joelle Abi-Rached of Harvard.

Gender differences in performance under stress are associated with different styles of “sociality” and empathic insight.

-*How do you maintain task performance and “Emotional Intelligence” of empathy when experiencing stress?

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Evidence-Based Stress Management – Social Support – Part 3 of 5

George Vaillant

George Vaillant

Personal relationships and social support have been shown to buffer the negative effects of stress inside and outside the workplace, according to George Vaillant, then of Harvard, with colleagues SE MeyerKenneth Mukamal, and Stephen Soldz.

Kenneth Mukamal

Kenneth Mukamal

They evaluated data from a 50-year prospective multivariate study of 223 men and found that engaging with others during a stressful event improves mood, but withdrawing from others increases anxiety, depression, and stress.
In this sample, friends seemed more important than closeness to spouse and to children for sustained physical health.

Lawrence Fisher

Lawrence Fisher

Social  relationships that buffer stress and anxiety include family closeness and connectedness, problem-focused family coping skills, clear family organization, explicit decision making, and direct communication  according to University of California, San Francisco’s Lawrence Fisher and Karen Weihs of University of Arizona.

Stephen Soldz

Stephen Soldz

In contrast, lack of social connections can increase both stress and susceptibility to disease agents due to alterations in the neuroendocrine system, according to Vaillant and team.

Karen Weihs

Karen Weihs

Undermining relationship characteristics include hostility, criticism, and blame within the family; family perfectionism and rigidity; and psychopathology, according to Fisher and Weihs.

Stress-reducing social support can come from animal companions, according to SUNY Buffalo’s Karen AllenBarbara Shykoff, and Joseph Izzo, who demonstrated that “nonevaluative social support” from animal companions reduces blood pressure in response to mental stress.

Joseph Izzo

Joseph Izzo

Forty-eight hypertensive volunteers were assigned to random comparison groups:  One group had animal companions in addition to an anti-hypertensive medication (angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitor or ACE inhibitor) and the other group received medication only.

Before participants received medication, volunteerss in both groups had similar physical responses to stress, measured by blood pressure, heart rate, and plasma renin activity.

Allen, Shykoff, and Izzo monitored these physical indicators after experimental mental stressors (serial subtraction and speech), compared with baseline measures.
They found that although medication alone lowers resting blood pressure, social support from animal companions was associated with lower blood pressure in response to mental stress.

Mark Ellenbogen

Mark Ellenbogen

Like some other stress management recommendations, this research-based finding requires willingness, and commitment to engage with others when it may seem easier and more appealing to be alone.

Oxytocin may promote seeking social support when experiencing stress and the impulse to withdraw from others, shown in research by Concordia University’s Mark Ellenbogen and Christopher Cardoso.

Christopher Cardoso

Christopher Cardoso

They demonstrated that oxytocin can increase a person’s trust in others following social rejection.
Volunteers received oxytocin nasal spray or a placebo, then experienced experimentally-induced social rejection when confederates challenged, interrupted, and ignored the participants.

Volunteers who inhaled oxytocin before the experimental social rejection and who reported greater distress on mood and personality questionnaires also said they generally invest greater trust in other people.
In contrast, oxytocin had no effect on trust among volunteers who were not bothered by the evoked social rejection.

These findings suggest that oxytocin may help individuals experiencing stress access the benefits of social support and may become an additional stress management option.

-*How can workplaces enable social support for employees experiencing stress?

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Resilient Performance Enhanced by Warmth, Touch

John Bargh

John Bargh

Idit Shalev

Idit Shalev

John Bargh of Yale and Idit Shalev now of Ben Gurion University found a bi-directional causal relationship between physical warmth and social warmth.

They used social affiliation as a proxy for social warmth; Loneliness and interpersonal rejection were examples of social coldness.

Results from their four studies concluded that feelings of social warmth or coldness can be induced by experiences of physical warmth or coldness, and vice versa.

In addition, Bargh and Shalev demonstrated that volunteers unconsciously self-regulated feelings of social warmth by applying physical warmth.

This type of self-regulation is a form of exerting control over the environment and managing feelings.
Self-management strategies reinforce people’s perception that they have some control over choices and environment.

Paul Zak

Paul Zak

Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg

Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg

Paul Zak and Kerstin Uvnas Moberg argue that touch can be another self-regulation strategy because it activates the vagus nerve and the release of oxytocin, resulting in increased feelings of interpersonal warmth, compassion, and collaboration.

Both of these self-management strategies – inducing warmth and engaging in touch – can increase task performance and reduce the likelihood that people will experience depression.

Carl Honore

Carl Honore

Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman

Canadian Journalist Carl Honore provided evidence in Martin Seligman’s important finding in studies of “learned helplessness,” that when people have a sense of control – whether real or a “positive illusion” – it can have a salutary effect on performance and mood.

-*How do you self-regulate performance and mood?

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Health Benefits of Positive Emotions, Outlook

Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Frederickson of University of North Carolina posits that negative emotions aid human survival by narrowing and limiting people’s perceived range of possible actions, whereas positive emotions enhance survival by “broadening and building” options for action.

She detailed her lab-based research in Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life and her talk at UC Berkeley Greater Good Science CenterPositivity

Her lab’s findings suggest that positive thinking expands awareness and perception of the surrounding world, so can lead to innovative solutions to problems.

She suggests intentionally implementing a “broaden-and-build” approach to emulate this expanded view: Choose a degree of focus and perspective depending on requirements.

For example, to garner more clout in a discussion, she suggests involving more people who will provide support.
Similarly, to mitigate negative thinking or “tunnel vision,” think more broadly by viewing “the big picture.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School referred this perceptual shift as “zooming in” and “zooming out”, depending on the perspective requires.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Frederickson found that people who experience positive thinking are:

* Healthier
* More generous
* More productive
* Bounce back from adversity more quickly
* Are better managers of people
* Live longer
than those with a bleaker outlook.

Fredrickson’s research implies that positive emotions can mitigate the cardiovascular effects of negative emotions and stress.

In these activated conditions, people generally have increased heart rate, higher blood sugar, greater immunosuppression.
These conditions tax physical systems and can lead to life-threatening illnesses like coronary disease.

To mitigate these negative health consequences, Fredrickson recommends observing positive emotional experiences of joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.
Besides noticing these experiences, she advocates writing and meditating about these to increase grateful awareness.

In addition, Frederickson echoes common wisdom:

  • Spend time in nature to appreciate the natural world
  • Develop interests
  • Invest time in relationships
  • Reduce exposure to negative news
  • Practice kindness
  • Dispute negative thoughts and replace them with more positive, realistic thoughts.

Frederickson extends her research agenda on positive emotions in her latest book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Love 2-0

She broadens the concept of love to suggest that love – or an intense connection – occurs when people share positive emotion.
This lead to alignment between people’s biochemistries,  particularly the release of oxytocin and vagal nerve functioning.
Related emotions and behaviors synchronize and mirror each other, resulting in shared interest in mutual well-being  in a three-phase  “positivity resonance.”

She argues that love “literally changes your mind.
It expands your awareness of your surroundings, even your sense of self.
The boundaries between you and not-you – what lies beyond your skin – relax and become more permeable.
While infused with love, you see fewer distinctions between you and others.”

Fredrickson argues that this intense connection requires physical presence, and cannot be replaced by existing digital media — reinforcing her recommendation to invest in relationships with others.

-*What practices enable you to cultivate and sustain positive emotions?

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Companion Animals in the Workplace

Technology companies like Autodesk, Google, and Amazon made news when they permitted employees to bring companion dogs to work.Dog at work

This policy was viewed as an employee benefit or “perk”, but a recent study published in International Journal of Workplace Health Management indicates that bringing a companion dog to work can lower stress levels, increase productivity and make work more satisfying.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health conclude that companion animals can lower individuals’ cholesterol, trigylcerides, blood pressure, heart rates,  weight, stress, risk of heart attack, social isolation, inactivity, and overall healthcare costs, all of which benefit organization’s operational costs.

National Institute of Health

Randolph Barker and collaborators from Virginia Commonwealth University examined a service-manufacturing-retail company in North Carolina with 550 employees and between 20 – 30 companion dogs.

Randolph Barker

Randolph Barker

Researchers measured 76 employees’ stress levels via surveys of attitudes toward animals in general and in the workplace.
Equal numbers of employees perceived dogs’ presence as increasing or decreasing work productivity.

Employees’ perceived stress levels, measured by cortisol in saliva samples, were significantly lower and job satisfaction was higher on days when dogs were present at work.

Companion dogs at work appeared to boost interpersonal communication, organizational engagement, and morale when employees who did not own dogs asking dog owners to interact with dogs or take them for a walk.

Considerable research around the globe suggests that the stress-reducing effect of companion dogs is tied to an increase in oxytocin when humans and dogs interact.

Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg

Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg

Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg of Uppsala University and author of The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love, And Healing, reported that women and their dogs experienced similar increases in oxytocin levels after ten minutes of friendly contact, and women’s oxytocin response was significantly correlated to the quality of the bond they reported in a survey taken prior to the interacting with their dogs.

The Oxytocin Factor

Likewise, JS Odendaal and RS Meintjes, then of Pretoria Technikon, showed that friendly contact between dogs and humans release oxytocin in both and Miho Nagasawa‘s team  at Azabu University found that amount of oxytocin among dog owners increased with the amount of time they shared eye contact with their dogs.

Suzanne C. Miller’s research group showed that oxytocin increased among women but not men after greeting their companion dog when returning home from work.

Christopher Honts

Christopher Honts

Christopher Honts and Matthew Christensen of Central Michigan University extended findings on stress reduction to evaluate trust, team cohesion and intimacy among teams collaborating on tasks when a well-trained, hypoallergenic dog was present.
During a collaborative creative thinking exercise, participants rated teammates higher on trust and teamwork than those without a dog.

Teams with a dog during the prisoner’s dilemma measure of trust and collaboration were 30% less likely to betray teammates accused of being co-conspirators in a hypothetical crime scenario.

Hiroshi Nittono

Hiroshi Nittono

Hiroshi Nittono and team at Hiroshima University demonstrated improved performance on problem-solving, attention, perceptual discrimination, and motor performance tasks after volunteers viewing images of baby animals compare with adult animals or food, reported in Public Library of Science .

Despite evidence that companion animals in the workplace reduce stress, increase perceptual and problem-solving capabilities and health indicators, barriers include:

  • Cultural objections to dogs and other animals
  • Allergies to companion animals
  • Animals without proper obedience and social skills training for the workplace

-*What do you think about potential financial and morale benefits of companions animals in the workplace?

Gromit

Gromit

<-Will this

Miss Sarah's Guide

Miss Fido Manners

be replaced with this? <—————>

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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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Oxytocin Increases Empathic Work Relationships, Workplace Trust, Generosity

Paul Zak

Paul Zak

Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate Center, and author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity, suggests that the hormone oxytocin empathic understanding, generosity (donating to charities, giving money to others in experimental situations), happiness, and trust/trustworthiness.The Moral Molecule

He verified these laboratory-based findings in real-world situations, like a wedding he attended in southern England, prior to which he drew blood samples from the wedding party.

Zak says that oxytocin can be increased by massage, dance, story-telling, prayer, engaging in social media with a loved one, and hugs.
As a result, he “prescribes 8 hugs a day” for better mood and improved “relationships of all types.”

He says that oxytocin can be inhibited by improper nurturing in childhood, stress, abuse, and by oxytocin’s antagonist, testosterone.
Known as the “selfish hormone,” testosterone is also correlated with expressions of power and leadership in the workplace.

One reason women may have challenges expressing these traits in work situations is that their average testosterone levels are ten times lower than men’s.
Zak’s TED Talk

Amy Cuddy

Amy Cuddy

Related Post:

Thoughts change bodies, bodies change minds, roles shapes hormones: Amy Cuddy on “Faking Until It’s Real”

-*To what extent have you seen “eight hugs a day improve mood and relationships”?

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