Besides its well-known physiological functions, OXT plays an important role in regulating social behavior and positive social interactions (Neumann 2007). Centrally administered OXT induces partner preference and accelerates the formation of social contact in both male and female prairie voles (Cho et al., 1999).
Well-being is a state of absence of mental and physical disease and also of positive emotions and contentment. As OXT release is augmented by touch and physiological support, so the hormone is involved in both the cause and benefit of social interactions. Conceivably, frequent socializing may reduce depression rate via upregulated OXT expression.
Empathy and OXT: During the process of mammalian evolution, animals developed sympathetic neural and behavioral systems. Weak and helpless member of individuals are protected and cared by other group members. Humans are often aroused by the distress of others. Altruism can be considered morally virtuous and has been associated with empathy. The experience of empathy has been shown to motivate prosocial behaviors, such as volunteering and donations to charities (Dovidio et al., 2006).
Psychologists have distinguished between empathy and distress as motivators to help others. Those who experience distress are motivated to reduce their own aversive state, while those who experience empathy are focused on relieving the aversive state of another (Barraza et al. 2009).
By assessing the effectiveness of psychotherapy and its curative factors, empathy is one of the most important techniques that lead to therapeutic success (Bachar, 1998).
A positive social interaction is bidirectional, involving both giving and receiving empathy/care. The recent studies showed that receiving empathy from others may promote OXT expression, resulting in coping with chronic stress. In addition, a recent animal study suggests that giving affiliation towards others upregulates hypothalamic OXT expression, which in turn attenuates stress responses of GI tract (Babygirija et al. 2010; Babygirija et al. 2012). It should be noted that providing social support is more beneficial than receiving it to reduce mortality in humans (Brown et al., 2003).
Behavioral correlations, such as an increase in generosity, have been reported following a positive social interaction in humans. Empathy toward strangers increased plasma OXT levels. Higher levels of empathy were also associated with more generous monetary offers toward strangers. OXT is a physiologic signature for empathy and, empathy mediates generosity (Barraza et al. 2009).
Upregulation of OXT; Even if intranasal spray of OXT is shown, in the near future, to have a beneficial effect on our daily life stress, the therapeutic indication of OXT spray is questionable. When OXT is administered daily, desensitization of OXT receptors and/or downregulation of endogenous OXT synthesis might develop. It is highly recemmended to upregulate the endogenous OXT system in our body (hypothalamus), rather than depending on the exogenously administered OXT.
It should be emphasized that access to a supportive family and social network, which upregulates hypothalamic OXT expression, is an important factor to overcome daily life stress. During the process of maintaining the positive social interaction, both of giving and receiving empathic affiliation, OXT system is upregulated in our brain (Babygirija et al. 2012).
Especially, thinking about helpless people and giving sympathy to them may upregulate hypothalamic OXT expression, which promotes mental and physical health.