Oxytocin and the hug of hate

There is no doubt that hug has come back into fashion with a lot of vengeance in last week. With the famous hug spawning numerous memes, I am also keen to ride the wave and point out a very interesting aspect of the hormone of hug, i.e. oxytocin.

Oxytocin is also called a cuddle-hormone as it gets released when we hug someone, so there is a distinct possibility that Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Modi had an oxytocin moment, but we need to look at the entire oxytocin phenomenon with greater concern as it carries a nasty twist in its tale/tail.

When oxytocin mechanism was unveiled, it was a rosy story of love and bonding. As a human child arriving on the planet bonds with its mother due to oxytocin release, it is the first hormone that we all cherish. Oxytocin, when discovered, was hugely admired because it was seen as a source of love of the highest order that bonds human beings beyond mundane lust.

As oxytocin was understood further, we realised that it played a key role in kinship and friendship. It is so powerful that it can bond two complete strangers. If there is a true glue of human relationships, it is oxytocin.

While oxytocin enjoyed or rather still enjoys a rosy image in public eye, of late scientists are finding some uncomfortable qualities of this love hormone that may hold the real key to its bigger role in human society.

We all know that a mother’s bond with her infant is one of the strongest human bonds. A mother will have a fit of rage so powerful that she will fight even a tiger to save her child. So, what powers the mother’s rage?

We all can love our motherland so much that we can fight till death to protect it. What powers us to do that?

As all such bonds are formed by oxytocin, it forces us to consider something completely counterintuitive about this blue-eyed hormone linked with all the good things in life.

Strange though it may sound, there is a great possibility that the very oxytocin that fills us with love is also cause of hate.

Till date, we may have carried a completely false notion that love unites the world, while the bitter reality is love borne of oxytocin divides us and pits us against each other. In simplest terms, love is hate, and oxytocin is actually hate hormone too.

The phenomenon that is played out by oxytocin is linked with something that psychologists call in-group and out-group division that our brain makes. Oxytocin works as love hormone for in-group humans. But, by doing that, it automatically creates an out-group that it forces us to hate.

So, if you are a dog-lover, other dog-lovers become your in-group, but those who don’t love dogs immediately turn into out-group. So even if you are a completely non-violent person, if you read a social media comment suggesting that stray dogs should be shot, you will develop a rage of hate and would make a counter-post suggesting to shoot that person who has posted it!

This intense emotional experience is because oxytocin leads you to hate in equal proportion of your love. All the dividedness that we see in the world is a product of oxytocin that makes us hate out-group for no real reason!

When Mr. Gandhi hugged Mr. Modi, claiming to use hug as a symbol of power of love to bind and connect humans; the reality is, it just led to more hate, because we humans are capable of pulling out-groups to hate out of the oxytocin hat that we all wear. Every time we love, we also hate. Love and hate are just two expressions of one brain-drive.

This poses a deeper question.

Can we love all?

Unfortunately, as long as we are driven by oxytocin, we have little hope to unify and love all. It will forever lead us to create in-groups and out-groups, making life an interwoven tapestry of love and hate.

One possible way to escape oxytocin trap is to avoid falling madly in love with anything, and, instead build a rational justification for our choices. This may rob us of the passion we feel for issues, but it will also save us from mindlessly hating others.

To have a world with a little less of hate, we have no other choice but to let go of love!

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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