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.”
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