Is Love Contagious?

Is love contagious?  Can trust be transmitted to others?

Paul J. Zak, author of the forthcoming book The Moral Molecule, documents a connection between demonstrations of love and trust and levels of the hormone oxytocin.  He says in a recent Wall Street Journal article describing his book that his research offers “empirical evidence that illuminates the mechanism at the heart of our moral guidance system.”

See an interview with Zak here

Love is contagious

Zak’s research shows that when oxytocin is introduced into subjects’ brains, there is a corresponding increase in kind and generous behavior.  He’s also found that human expressions and celebrations of love and trust, like weddings, boost oxytocin levels in participants.  (You too can have blood tests done before and after a wedding ceremony to validate his data!)

Zak’s wedding lab results suggest that expressions of love and trust breed more of the same; a morally rising social spiral.  We could reasonably conclude that the converse is also true.  Pervasive demonstrations of fear, suspicion and selfishness would reduce oxytocin levels thereby creating a downward moral spiral.

Naturalists and atheists might interpret this as evidence that morality has a biological basis after all.  One’s kindness raises oxytocin levels in others who will reward it with kindness in return.  Hormones, therefore, help us learn positive social behaviors, so we have no need for silly old ideas of divinely given moral laws.  That is one perspective.

The Source of all goodness

As a Christian, I see it differently.  Oxytocin does not create goodness; Goodness first created oxytocin.  Since our kind, good and loving God created us in his image, then he must have created us with the capacity for love and goodness.  Perhaps oxytocin is part of the molecular mechanism he used.  Fascinating.

Lifting love levels

Furthermore, if Zak’s thesis is true, think of all the love and trust Jesus’s life on this earth must have produced as he shared the pure love of God in his interactions with others.  Oxytocin levels must have been off the charts when he was around!

If Christians today, the Body of Christ still present on the earth, would express the love of God like Jesus did and refuse to live fearfully, cynically and selfishly, which feeds the current downward cycle, might we lift love levels in our families and communities?

Or, put in terms of Jesus’s description of the Kingdom of God operating like yeast in a batch of dough, a little sprinkle of love can cause a whole batch to rise.

What would our society look like if Christians really loved unconditionally and took the radical risk of trusting others?  Would people around us respond in kind?  Could a little sprinkle of your love raise the moral tone of your community?

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”  John 15:12

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About Judy

At heart I am a student of truth, an observer of culture, and a communicator. Jesus is my teacher and my Lord. In pursuit of these passions, I read as much as I can, serve as Teaching Director for a Community Bible Study group, and write a blog in an attempt to synthesize it all. I take great delight in my relationships with family and friends, and I also enjoy long walks, bike rides and cooking. And did I mention that I like to read?
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19 Responses to Is Love Contagious?

  1. Thomas Smith says:

    I love the post, in my mind it highlights a God who was wise enough to plan out all the finer details in creations from dew on the grass to oxytocin in us. I think you made a great point about aethists and naturalists, who would argue for biological ethics and against a higher moral law, or a God of that moral law.

    I do think a large showing of selfless living, or Christian’s actually bearing their cross and following Jesus, would have a huge impact on our communities and neighborhoods. I leave you blog with this thought, what if Christians actually received the fullness of God’s love for them? Instead of living fearful and distrusting towards the One who says, I know every hair on your head, and you’re more valuable than many sparrows. The One who says, give me all your care because I care for you.

    I think that the reason Jesus was able to live out love the way He did, was because He didn’t have a problem with believing, trusting or receiving the Father’s love. He didn’t question God’s love for Him, in thought or action. It appears while many know of the love on the cross, we have not fully received that radical love in our daily lives. So that we can say like Paul that nothing will separate us from the Love of God, no matter what comes, and be willing to face whatever.

    • Judy says:

      You make an excellent point, Thomas. We accept God’s love intellectually and doctrinally, but do we really live like believe it? Do we know it to the depths of our souls? Honestly, I don’t know if I experience his love as deeply as I would like to. Thank you for your thoughts. You’ve got me thinking…

  2. branchl77 says:

    Excellent Judy, We are very special creatures and we have the ability to communicate and connect on so many levels. When we look at the quantum level we have the ability to effect one anonther for good. This blog is an example of that an I am forever changed as you share your heart though your thoughts. Keep up the god work. Thanks!

    • Judy says:

      Love is the “real evidence” of the Kingdom, as you noted in your recent post. Thank you very much for your encouraging words!

  3. Great post Judy! Thanks for pointing me to it.

  4. Cara Olsen says:

    I just love that God “commands” us to love our neighbors. He doesn’t ask or suggest this, he tells us blatantly that it is a COMMAND. If the Savior of this world and smartest man to ever walk the face of the Earth went to the trouble to command us to something, we would do well to heed His wisdom. Thank you, Judy, for this reminder.

    Blessings!
    Cara

  5. Cristal says:

    I am always fascinated at the workings of chemicals and hormones in our bodies, as designed by our Creator. For instance, many have found exercise to produce the same chemicals drug manufacturers have attempted to reproduce in order to make us feel better. God left nothing out!

    • Judy says:

      I’m sure we have no idea of the marvelous complexity and interactions between our bodies and emotions and minds. We just get little hints that are more tantalizing than defining! The more science “discovers,” the more I believe in the God who left nothing out. Thanks for your thoughts, Cristal!

  6. margaretnyman says:

    I love your line, “Goodness first created oxytocin.” Well put!

  7. Larry Who says:

    You present some interesting thoughts on a good old California boy, Dr. Paul J. Zak. I did a little research on him and he is referred to as the Dr. of Love. He believes in hugging people to raise their levels of oxytocin.

    Usually, when I see studies by scientists who try to understand spiritual characteristics through the interworkings of the mind or our bodies, I roll my eyes a lot. I sigh often, too. Then, I always have the urge to raise my hand as if to ask a question of the scientist, “Why don’t you do some studies in North Korea? Certainly, the lack of oxytocin there would validate your theories.”

    And who knows, maybe Dr. Love could hug Kim Jong-un and the rest of the executive branch and thereby change the whole nation.

    I believe love is contagious…that is the agape love of the One who died on the cross.

    • Judy says:

      Yes, Zak ended his WSJ article with his practice of hugging visitors to his office. (He warns them up front:) He believes his research! Sometimes I wonder if we believe our Savior. As you point out, the love of Jesus as demonstrated on the cross is truly contagious. I’ll speak for myself: I just don’t always act like I believe it. Thanks for your thoughts, Larry.

    • myfunhap says:

      exactly, scientists use intelligence in stead of wisdom (unfortunately, otherwise there would be much less misery in this world) and love has no relationship with intelligence, on the contrary ;-)

  8. myfunhap says:

    Hi Judy,
    you raise again an importang issue here! I think that often problems and confusion find their origin in semantics. Love in our culture is often “only” fysical. The love of God is something else. But in both cases we talk about love.

    I am an MD and I can tell you that oxytocin is a bit of an old story. However it is still iinteresting to see that our “perseived” feelings are indeed influenced by fysical ifluences eg hormones. We are not necessarely a victim to that, we can counter it. I always tell people to follow “wisdom” in sted of “intelligence or logic”. Wisdom is a product of the heart and I use that “sensory organ” to check my thouts and emotions. The result is that after some years ofndoing that, Anything “not loving” gets a flag ” needs to be looked at by the heart”.

    The love of God resides in our heart. Finding to God is listening to your heart. At least, that’s my experience. Am I alone in this?

    regards

    Francois

    • Judy says:

      Hello Francois, It’s good to hear from an actual scientist:) I realize, as does the author of the article I referenced, that the interaction between our physical bodies and our emotions is complex. I like your advice to seek wisdom, which is not the same thing as intelligence. There are many smart people who are not at all wise. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We find wisdom in Him. Thanks for you comment, Francois. I appreciate your thoughts!

  9. Caddo Veil says:

    Hi Judy! Though I only passed my science classes because of merciful teachers, I kind of like the idea that God was part scientist–oxytocin and molecular mechanisms, and such–I’d never thought of Him having that aspect within His multi-dimensional character. “Contagion” is a good word–I’ve suffered the ravages of suspicion, cynicism, rejection, distrust, passed on generationally; and likewise, I’ve benefited and blossomed with the contagion of love, acceptance, encouragement, faith in God. “Sowing and Reaping” come to mind–and your message will make me extra prayerful about the seeds I casually toss. Thank you so much! God bless you abundantly.

    • Judy says:

      Hello Caddo! I’m no scientist either, but I too love the idea that God created all the molecular machinations of our body and emotions. Thanks for adding the concept of sowing and reaping to the discussion – another truth backed up by biology! Blessings to you, Caddo!

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