As people age, they tend to produce more oxytocin and become more caring. The corresponding study was published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience by researchers in California.
Oxytocin is a neurochemical known for its role in prosocial behavior, including social attachment, interpersonal trust, and generosity.
After middle age, people tend to spend more time volunteering and donate more to charity than younger people. In the current study, researchers sought to see whether higher levels of oxytocin release accompany such prosocial behaviors.
To do so, they recruited 103 people aged between 18 and 99. Each was shown a video of a little boy with cancer that had previously been found to induce oxytocin release.
The researchers took blood samples from each participant before and after watching the video to track their oxytocin levels. They also asked the participants whether they would donate some of their earnings from the study to a childhood cancer charity and gathered information on their emotional states to understand their general life satisfaction.
In the end, the researchers found that those who released the most oxytocin during the experiment tended to be more generous and more likely to engage in prosocial behavior. They further found that oxytocin release increased with age and was positively linked to life satisfaction.
“The findings of our study are consistent with many religions and philosophies, where satisfaction with one’s life is enhanced by helping others,” said first author Dr. Paul J Zak of Claremont Graduate University.
The researchers would now like to repeat this study with a more ethnically and geographically diverse sample to see whether the findings may be replicated across cultures. They would also like to assess participants with longer-term measures of neurophysiology via noninvasive wearable technologies to see which activities increase people’s life satisfaction.