Growing Pains

***While I usually limit my blog posts to academic topics, I felt the need to post a more personal one today. I plan to start back into my Psychology/Neuroscience blog topics next week.***

Over the past month it’s felt as if life swallowed me up, shook me around, pulled the ground from beneath me, then spit me back out again. I’ve been left with a bruised ego, feeling vulnerable and pathetic.

I have spent the last eighteen years as a learner and a go-getter, and being a University student amplified this. I have carefully planned out my semesters and worked hard to reach my goal of an undergrad degree, carefully checking my requirements off a list and counting down the time until I would walk the stage. I was proud of a lot of my accomplishments- I started University straight out of high school and graduated in four years with a pretty decent GPA. I felt at home and I felt like the best version of myself over the last four years. When graduation came I was on top of the world as I checked “undergraduate degree” off my bucket list. I felt accomplished, I felt educated and I felt proud. I saw my future as bright and easy. I would get a job in the field, work on applying to grad school, become a counselor… continue checking off the list of ambitions.

Unfortunately, as with most things in life, my idea of how things were going to go did not match the reality that I found myself in. Despite my meticulous planning and preparing life threw some curveballs and I can honestly say I was totally caught off guard by the shift that took place mentally. With my summer job coming to an end I suddenly got hit with “the real world” for what felt like the first time. Without going into too much detail, the job I had lined up in Lethbridge didn’t work out for me, I found myself living in a city where I no longer belonged and had nothing to occupy my time, I got hit with some pretty rough anxiety concerning my future and my mood lowered the more I thought about how much I missed the life I had before graduation.

They say that one consistency in life is that it’s never consistent. It’s painful and it can be hard to understand why, after being so certain about life for so long, you suddenly forget who you are. Once confident and self-assured, you find yourself lost and scrambling to hold on to some sort of normality. These feelings make you want to hold on to the past to regain that certainty and confidence in yourself- but the impossibility of this causes feelings of grief and misplacement.

As unnatural as transitions feel, at the end of the day they serve a purpose. If life was always easy and we always knew what to do, we would never have the opportunity to grow.  Changes are always going to happen, it’s up to use to decide what we do in the midst of the change. When we choose to let change happen, it in turn molds and shapes us. It allows us those moments where we see who we are at the core. It allows us to be resilient and strong.

Almost two years ago now I wrote a blog about growth vs. fixed mindsets (see: Mindset Theory/Brains are Amazing! ). I look back on it now and benefit from it more today than I did when I wrote it, because now I can apply it in reality rather than just in theory. Mindsets have a huge impact on outcomes. Maintaining a mindset that believes we learn from failure, and lives are shaped through determination and attitude, leads to success. Image result for Growth mindset

 

Leaving the past behind is truly a grieving process, but without this process we wouldn’t be able to grow. If we maintain a growth mindset and leave our minds and hearts open to opportunity, it’s inevitable that we will look back on these transitional times and see their necessity. Going through this transition offers us an opportunity. An opportunity to come out on the other side a better, stronger version of ourselves. No matter how difficult it may be in the moment, the payoff will be worth it, and that’s definitely something to look forward to.

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Social Cognition: Reflection

Every December and April, as a semester comes to a close, I look back and wonder how the last four months went by so fast. For me, the end of this semester is always hard as it signifies the end of another five classes and the change that comes with moving into the next step of life. This semester’s end is especially big for me as it also marks the end of my undergraduate degree. This April I am looking back wondering not only how the last four months whizzed by so fast, but where the last four years have gone.

Looking back it is amazing to see how much I have grown throughout my time at the University of Lethbridge. I have met some wonderful people, been in some great classes, and found my passion. I want to thank Jesse for being an important part of that. His classes have helped my fuel my love for Psychology, and delve into concepts that interest ME and what I want to do. Jesse has inspired me to treat my education as a time to find out what I love and learn in a way that can be inspiring to others.

In January 2016 I started my first class with Jesse and, like most, was overwhelmed by the format of the class and the idea of creating my own blog. With time I found that blogging was a wonderful way for me to explore my own interests in Psychology and improve my writing abilities. I started posting my blogs on Facebook and, once the class was over, had a huge number of people tell me they missed reading my blogs. I actually loved blogging so much that, with the encouragement of my readers, I continued my posts for a while after the class was finished. I found it a great way to continue exploring my passions on my own time, and also keep my friends and family up to date on what I was doing with my life. The freedom of writing my own blogs allowed my to get a little more personal and after writing a blog on my journey with mental health I got feedback from so many people on how it had affected them and how much they appreciated my writing. I think this was a pivotal moment for me because it was one of the first times that I really saw how my love for psychology could actually relate to me having an impact on another person’s life.

When I saw that Jesse was teaching a class on social cognition Spring 2017 I registered in it right away. Having the inspiration of classmate’s blogs and talks was something I had really missed and really desired to have again. This semester, as I began blogging weekly again, I had so many people tell me they were excited to read them each week and hear more of what I had to say.

Social Cognition and Psych in Education brought out my passion for psychology. Blogging became something beyond an assignment, it has become a life project for me that I want to continue to explore and improve upon. My blog is an outlet. This is where I can take everything I have in my head and put it out to the world. This has been so influential in helping me grow, and helping me realize that people want to hear what I have to say. It gives me confidence that I can go on to help people in a future career, whether that be in support services, human resources, counseling, or teaching.

I want to thank Jesse for starting me off on this journey and giving me something I can take with me into my future even as I leave my university experience behind. It truly has been an irreplaceable experience.

Social Cognition in Personality Disorders: Synthesis

Over the past three weeks I have looked into three separate personality disorders and their relations to social cognition. Borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder all revolve around deficits in interpersonal relations. While the way these deficits vary in how they present themselves, these problems with social cognition are consistent across personality disorders. Despite only going in to depth on three disorders, in my research I have found that many other personality disorders have these social cognitive links as well.

Cluster B Disorders

The three personalities I looked at all fell into the cluster B category of personality disorders. These are thought of as the “dramatic” or “erratic” group of disorders. Although interpersonal relationships are approached differently based on what personality disorder an individual has, individuals in the cluster B section tend to fall all over the scale of emotions when it comes to social cognition. Those with BPD look for emotional support from others as they need emotional fulfillment, while those with ASPD have a lack of emotion and use this to manipulate others through their social interactions. Histrionic personalities tend to fall somewhere in the middle. Individuals with this disorder need attention from others in social situations (like those with BPD), but they do not form attachments to people in the same way those with BPD tend to do.

Cluster A and C

In my research I only looked at cluster B personality disorders, this was because these were the ones I knew the most about and was most interested in. In my further research I found that cluster A and C have similar social cognitive deficits.

Cluster A- Cluster A personalities are considered more odd or eccentric. This group includes schizoid personality, schizo-typal personality, and paranoid personality disorder. The social cognitive deficits in these disorders surrounds the fear of others. In paranoid personality disorder especially, individuals may have fears of being in public, or may have paranoia regarding interacting with specific groups of people (for example policemen). Schizoid personalities tend to isolate themselves from others and avoid social situations all together, while schizo-typal personalities show the same reactions in social situations as those with schizophrenia.

Cluster C- Cluster C personalities are considered to be the more fearful, anxious personality disorders. These include avoidant, dependent, and obsessive compulsive personality disorders. Those with avoidant personalities tend to shy away from social interaction due to the fear of embarrassing themselves or being judged by others. Those with dependent personalities may have the same fears of judgement, but react differently than those with avoidant personalities. Rather than shying away from social interactions they tend to become socially reliant on one person and need to be taken care of. Finally, those with obsessive compulsive personalities rely on routine and specificity to maintain control over their lives. This results in strains on social interaction as family and friends may have a difficulty understanding their compulsive behaviors.

Treatment

Treatments for personality disorders are often aimed at improving social relationships. Cognitive behavioral therapies are aimed at helping the individual understand how their cognition relates to how they act in situations with partners, friends and strangers. By understanding the relationship between the way they think and how they act, individuals can work towards improving relationships and minimizing the effects of having a personality disorder.

Social Cognition in Personality Disorders: Histrionic Personality

For my third and final blog on the personality disorders, I want to cover histrionic personalities. (Please note that these three that I have covered are NOT the only personality disorders, just the ones I chose to cover). Histrionic personality disorder, is similar to borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder as it has a large interpersonal/social component.

Symptoms 

Histrionic personalities are marked by excessive attention-seeking behavior and extreme emotionality. Some specific features that can be identified in someone with this disorder include: hypersensitivity, acting in a manipulative manner, assumed closeness with others (will share intimate details of their life with anyone), extreme emotional reactions, shallow emotions, sexually provocative behavior, preoccupation with self, and a compulsive desire for attention.

These individuals have the need to be the center of attention at all time- to the point where they will feel extremely unappreciated if the attention is not on them. These individuals are often outgoing and charming and use this as a way to get the attention that they crave.

Due to their need for constant attention these individuals tend to have unstable relationships, as their partners may tire of giving them constant reassurance and attention. Those with histrionic personalities will often be emotionally manipulative in relationships, and are likely to try to find attention outside of their romantic partner- but despite these sabotaging actions they tend to be extremely dependent in their relationships.

Causes

Like many of the other personality disorders, there is not one known cause of histrionic personality disorder. It is thought that it could be a combination of factors including genetics, inherited personality traits, parental influence, and neurological factors. It has been suggested that children who experience trauma in childhood may be more likely to develop a personality disorder as they may have a harder time with emotional regulation and social functioning. Histrionic personality disorder has also been shown to have a high co-morbidity with antisocial personality disorder which suggests they have the same underlying causes/mechanisms. It has also been proposed that Antisocial Personality Disorder in males is the equivalent to Histrionic Personality Disorder in females as predominantly males are diagnosed with APD, and predominantly females are diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder.

The chart below shows the effects that ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) can have on an individual later in life:

Treatment 

Treatment for histrionic personality disorder is usually done on a one-on-one therapist-patient level. This is to avoid the patient reverting to attention seeking behaviors during group/family therapies. Talk therapy is usually focused on uncovering the reasons behind the individual’s attention-seeking behaviors. It can be difficult to engage in therapy with someone with this disorder as they may look for the therapist for the reassurance and the attention they have been seeking. Furthermore, it can be difficult to terminate a therapeutic relationship with someone with this disorder as they often want to continue the sessions beyond what is needed. Overall, therapy is aimed at fixing short term problems the individual may be having by getting them to look into their motivations and think about how their actions affect the people around them.

Questions: What are some other treatments for Histrionic Personality Disorder? What do you think the relationship is between this disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Social Cognition in Personality Disorders: Antisocial Personality

Continuing on with my discussion of personality disorders, this week I will be focusing on Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)

ASPD

The DSM-5 splits symptoms of this disorder into two categories- impairments in self functioning and impairments in interpersonal functioning. In individuals with ASPD self functioning is flawed as they tend to be ego-centric and base their goals on personal gain while neglecting cultural norms and laws. On an interpersonal level these individuals fail to show empathy- this leads to a lack of remorse and a higher likelihood of using others, manipulating others, and even harming others. Individuals with this disorder also display an inability to maintain intimate relationships, this is because any relationships they do have are based on their need for control. They tend to be hostile, manipulative, callous and decietful. Beyond this they show an increased amount of impulsivity, irresponsibility and risk-taking behaviors.

Alongside having these symptoms, in order to be diagnosed with ASPD individuals must have shown these patterns of behaviors before the age of 15, and they must have been diagnosed with a conduct disorder in their youth. Most individuals with ASPD show some sort of trauma in their childhood. They tend to come from broken homes and have suffered some degree of physical, verbal, mental, and/or sexual abuse.

 

ASPD and Criminality

Due to their lack of empathy and remorse, individuals with antisocial personalities tend to be the same individuals that commit crimes in our society. Despite the somewhat misleading label of “antisocial”, these individuals are actually very in tune with the thoughts and cognition of others. This allows them to be manipulative as they can fake empathy and come across as very charming and caring. Unfortunately it can be difficult to treat individuals with this disorder as their ability to manipulate and act like they are remorseful can be very deceiving.

Psychopathy

ASPD does have some link to psychopathy- but there is some debate as to what this link is. One school of thought suggests that psychopathy is just a higher degree of antisociality. Psychopaths show the same tendencies as those with ASPD, just on a greater level. They tend to have more of the symptoms of antisociality, and may have already been diagnosed with ASPD. This seems to indicate that psychopaths are just severely antisocial.

On the other hand there are some major differences that differentiate psychopaths from antisocial individuals that may indicate psychopathy is a category on it’s own. For example, psychopaths do not exhibit the same childhood risk factors as ASPD (broken homes, abuse etc.). They also do not show normal fear responses while those with ASPD do. Finally, while those with ASPD may end up showing some level of remorse/empathy psychopaths do not.

ASPD Example

A very well-known example of this type of personality can be seen in the serial murderer Ted Bundy. Bundy was one of the most notorious killers in the 20th century as he was convicted of raping and murdering 30 women and It is estimated that the number of people he killed far succeeds this number. Bundy was described as intelligent, handsome, charming, and articulate. Before his execution, Bundy was interviewed about his remorse for the murders he committed. His words seem extremely forced and calculated and he quickly moves into blaming sources other than himself for the crimes he committed. In my opinion, Bundy shows almost all the traits of ASPD/psychopathy. This can be seen in the interview below:

 

Questions to explore: It is clear that individuals with ASPD can be very dangerous to our society, but are there any therapies that have been useful in treating ASPD/psychopathy? How can we move forward in the future to recognize these traits early and avoid harm to innocent people?

 

 

Social Cognition in Personality Disorders: Boderline Personality

Over the course of our development we gain personality traits that allow us to function as members of our society. These traits allow us to do well in our jobs, our relationships etc, but for certain people, maladaptive personality traits form that hinder their ability to succeed. These individuals are diagnosed with what is called a personality disorder. Over the next few weeks I want to go through a few of these disorders and how they affect social cognition.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

BPD affects around 2% of the population which actually makes it one of the more common personality disorders. BPD is characterized by two main personality traits:

1. Affective Instability: Individuals with BPD tend to have intense emotional reactions to events that happen in their environment. This applies to both positive and negative emotions. Someone close to me who has been diagnosed with BPD described the emotional aspect of the disorder as “making life both extremely overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time”. Alongside this roller coaster of emotions individuals have an unstable view of themselves and take longer to return to a baseline emotional state

2. Impulsivity: Those with BPD tend to react without giving much thought to long-term consequences of their actions.

These symptoms tend to arise from a variety of factors including genetic vulnerabilities, trauma, parental psychopathology, and/or loss and rejection in early life. This combined with the traits above can result in unstable and chaotic interpersonal relationships, self-destructive behavior, and dysphoria.

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Social/Cognitive State

Many  of the symptoms of BPD  revolve around issues in interpersonal relationships. Evidence shows that individuals with this disorder lack certain social cognitive skills that others may have. A study by Roepke et al (2013) found that not only did people with BPD show biases in attributing mental states to others, they also have a lesser ability to infer the cognitive states of others accurately. This means that individuals with BPD are more likely to assume that someone is hostile or has bad intentions, and they have more difficulty understanding what others are thinking and feeling. This leads to fears of rejection and abandonment which are a very common symptom of BPD.

Conclusion

In typical interpersonal relationships we use inferences frequently in order to gauge situations and understand what the other person is thinking/feeling. When this ability to infer is compromised, interpersonal relationships can become difficult to navigate. This can result in the person needing verbal reassurance more often, and being more likely to jump to the conclusion that their friend/partner is upset with them or is no longer interested in the relationship, which we often see in borderline personality disorder.

Fortunately, there are treatment options for this BPD. Medications like SSRIs can be used to treat mood shifts and self-mutilating behaviors alongside treating anxiety and depression that can accompany BPD. Mood stabilizers can also be used to reduce impulsivity and extreme emotional reactions. In some cases antipsychotics have proven useful in lowering anxiety and depression while also improving aggressive tendencies and rejection sensitivity.

As far as psychosocial treatments go, dialectical behavior therapy has proven to be the most useful for BPD. This therapy was actually adapted specifically for this disorder and is aimed at helping the individual accept negative affects without engaging in impulsive or self-destructive behaviors. The therapist also helps the individual create and maintain goals surrounding lowering suicidal/self-harming behaviors and increasing coping skills. Sessions can move into a group format in which the individuals work on interpersonal effectiveness and emotional regulation.

 

 

Social Anxiety

Throughout life everyone experiences some level of shyness. It is normal to feel wary or a little uncomfortable when it comes to being in new situations around unfamiliar people, but for some individuals this wariness is almost always present, and can cause some pretty  intense symptoms of distress. In this blog I want to talk about what makes social anxiety different from typical shyness and what’s happening in the brain and body of those with an anxiety disorder.

What is Anxiety?

I’ve discussed anxiety pretty in depth in a previous blog, but as a refresher an easy way to think of anxiety is a fear response gone wrong. When we are faced with an immediate, present danger our bodies naturally go into a state of hyper-arousal. This means that our sympathetic nervous system kicks in to elevate our heart rate and get ready to fight off the danger or flee from the situation. Anxiety is when this state of fight or flight is present despite the fact that there is no immediate danger. Anxiety usually revolves around “what if’s” or a fear of  the unknown, and despite the fact that the fears are irrational it can be hard to shut down the symptoms that accompany these fears.

What is Social Anxiety?

With this overly sensitive fear response there comes a few different categories of anxiety, but the one  I want to talk about today is social anxiety. Individuals with this disorder have fears surrounding being in new situations or being around large groups of people. Generally speaking, people with this type of anxiety fear that they’ll be judged by others, or that they will embarrass themselves publicly. These thoughts can be so impactful that they can result in panic attacks or complete avoidance of situations. Symptoms fall into three categories: cognitive (thoughts), physical (feelings), and behavioral. These symptoms tend to turn into a vicious cycle that can be seen below:

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The HPA Axis

Although a lot more research is still needed to fully understand the causes of anxiety, a lot of evidence points to the HPA axis as a key component in this system. This axis is what controls our physiological response to stress. Essentially, it is a loop involving the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal cortex. When we are feeling stressed there is a higher level of neurotransmitter activity in the hypothalmus, this leads to the hypothalamus secreting corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) to the pituitary gland. The pituitary then releases adrenocorticotropin (ACTH). ACTH moves through the blood stream to the adrenal cortex stimulating it to release cortisol into the blood stream. Cortisol is what is responsible for the “fight or flight” mode that we feel with anxiety. In typical individuals cortisol feeds back to the hypothalamus to shut down the system and allow the body to return to homeostasis, but in individuals with anxiety, this system can be hyperactive. This means that the system can be triggered by smaller amounts of stress and may release higher levels of hormones. This can cause the body to be in a state of hyper arousal when it doesn’t need to be, and causes the symptoms of anxiety.

hpa-axis

 

 

Treatment

Medications like SSRIs can be helpful in alleviating symptoms of anxiety, but a lot of people find that lifestyle changes and therapies can give the same results. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is extremely valuable in breaking the anxiety cycle as it allows individuals to see the connections between irrational thoughts and the feelings they have, and then work through these. Healthy diet and regular exercise are also useful in lowering stress hormones in the brain, and raising levels of serotonin (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter).

Overall, while social anxiety can be very distressing it’s important to remember that it is treatable. It is important to note that everyone experiences shyness to some extent, but if social situations are causing extreme discomfort it may be time to seek help, knowing that help is available.

 

 

 

Prosocial Lying

Telling lies is met with negative connotations. In many instances lying can be hurtful, and is associated with deceitfulness, manipulation and mistrust. Despite the fact that we usually view lying as morally wrong, lying is a social cognitive tool that is often used to promote social bonds. More often than we think, lying is permitted and even promoted or encouraged. A lot of us may use pro-social lies to please others without even thinking about it as lying.

Pro-social Lying 

While most lies are thought to hurt others, we use pro-social lying for the opposite effect. Have you ever told a peer that their presentation was great when really they butchered it? Or told a friend that the new haircut they got looked great when really it was awful? These are both examples of pro-social lies. A lot of the time we tell these lies to reinforce our social bonds. By telling lies we aim to please others and ensure that our relationships stay pleasant.

Undesirable Gift Reactions

With Christmas not too far behind us we may have some memories of pro-social lying. Gift opening can be a great test of our ability to put on a game face and convince our moms and dads that they got us exactly what we wanted. Over the years we’ve probably reacted like this once or twice on Christmas morning:

 

Although he may not outright lie, this child is careful to have a positive reaction to an honestly horrible gift, but how often does this really happen? A study by Talwar, Murphy and Lee asked this question. In their research they looked at pro-social lying in children between the ages of 3 and 11. Children were given undesirable gifts in three conditions to see how they would react.

Condition 1- In this condition the child was on their own and were given a gift by the experimenter. After the child opened the gift, the experimenter asked if they liked it. In this scenario 68% of children said they liked the gift (they all went  on to tell their parents that they did not actually like it)

Condition 2- In this condition children were coached by their parent before receiving a gift. Parents encouraged their children to say they liked the gift even if they didn’t, as this would be more polite than telling the truth. This condition resulted in 86% of the kids saying they liked the undesirable gift.

Condition 3- In the final condition the parent was given a desirable gift and then left alone with their child. They then told their child they did not like the gift, but told them not to tell the experimenter. When the experimenter came back in and asked the child if their parent liked the gift 87% of the children lied and said that they did.

This study shows that from a young age we develop the ability to tell pro-social lies, and the majority of us will tell these lies when given the opportunity. This effect is enhanced when we are encouraged to lie by someone who is meaningful to us, such as a parent. This study also found that the older the child was, the more likely they were to tell a pro-social lie.

We quickly master the ability to lie for the sake of others, but is this really so bad? Let me know in the comments. To add to that: what pro-social lies have you told lately? What was your reasoning/justification?

Ref

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2581483/

Autism Spectrum Disorder

This week I want to talk about issues in social cognition, and I figured a good place to start was with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that heavily affects one’s ability to interact socially. Autism is thought to be due to differences in brain development and function (possibly a disruption to cell migration or cell death during early brain development), but there is still a lot of research that needs to be done to fully understand the causal factors of autism. Individuals with autism can range from mildly affected to severely affected, all with different levels of functioning. Individuals all across this range of affectedness fall under the umbrella term “Autism” which is why it is called a spectrum disorder.

Diagnosis

Autism is usually diagnosed in the first few years of life and characteristics of the disorder can be seem from infancy. Babies with autism are often less alert and responsive than normally developing babies and they have more difficulty creating bonds and attachments with their caregivers.

An example of this behavior can be seen in the following Youtube Video (shown to me in another one of my classes). Note in the video the lack of response by the child to the mother and sibling’s voice, as well as the lack of interest in the toys surrounding him.

 

The full diagnostic criteria can be seen here, but to sum up the DSM-V diagnosis, autism includes both impairments in social interactions and communications and restricted or stereotyped behavior and interests. For the sake of this blog I will be focusing on the former category.

Impairments of Social Interaction and Communication

Individuals with Autism have difficulties understanding the cognitive states of others. Those of us without autism use cues to understand social contexts. These cues include things such as body language or tone of voice, but those with autism are unable to understand and use these cues. This can result in difficulties grasping the intentions of others, and an inability to interact with peers in their age group. Individuals with autism are less likely to start conversations or share their experiences with others, and they lack social and emotional tools such as making eye contact, and reacting to affection. Furthermore, those with autism may have more difficulty learning to speak and have trouble understanding allegory, or imaginative language.

Thoughts

Impairments in social cognition make every day interactions difficult for those with autism. An inability to perceive the intentions of others can lead to frustration and misunderstanding, which is difficult for children with the disorder as well as their parents and caregivers. For comments this week I would love to see some research on how ASD is treated and how we can make social interaction easier for those with this disorder.

References 

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC

Auger, R. W. (2013). Autism spectrum disorders: A research review for school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 16(4), 256–268. doi:10.2307/profschocoun.16.4.256
ethansmommy0309 (2010, December 17). Ethan 21 months-before autism diagnosis Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=bUQPiG-35EM&NR=1

The Cuddle Hormone

As humans we like to think we are in full control of our feelings, emotions and responses to events that take place in our lives. In reality, there’s a lot more going on inside our heads than just what’s happening in the frontal lobe (the “conscious” part of our brain). In my opinion, one of the most interesting hormones contributing to our emotions and behavior is Oxytocin. Although we cannot physically tell when this hormone is being secreted, it actually plays a huge role in our ability to bond socially. Oxytocin is aptly nicknamed both the “cuddle hormone” and the “love hormone” for the behind-the-scenes role it plays in our emotional connections.

Let’s Talk About Sex (and Childbirth)

Oxytocin is best known for it’s role in human reproduction and childbirth. Without oxytocin, conception would not be possible. In males oxytocin plays a role in ejaculation of sperm, while in females it stimulates uterine contractions that allow the sperm to reach an egg, but the work of Oxytocin doesn’t stop there. The hormone is also responsible for stimulating contractions during labor and delivery. As labor continues oxytocin levels continue to rise reaching the highest concentration during delivery. Not only does oxytocin allow the mother to physically deliver the baby, it also causes feelings of euphoria that raise pain tolerance and increase bonding between the mother and the newborn. Once the baby is delivered the hormone becomes responsible for stimulating lactation for breastfeeding- another process that increases mother to child bonding.

I Wanna Hold your Hand

Besides the obvious role oxytocin plays in reproduction, it also has a special role in social bonding. Nicknamed the “cuddle hormone”, oxytocin is released through physical contact. This includes anything and everything from hugging a loved one to cuddling up with a partner to holding hands to playing with a pet. The hormonal release not only makes us feel closer to the people we are interacting with, it also lowers stress and anxiety levels leaving calm and happy. In relationships oxytocin is responsible for our feelings of romance and love. The release of oxytocin makes us feel close and connected to our partner and the calmness that comes with oxytocin release may help us associate our partner with happiness and bliss. Cuddling your partner is actually a great way to bond as it results in this”love drug” pumping through your system creating the feelings of affection and romance.

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In conclusion, physical contact with another person can make us feel bonded with them as a result of the release of hormones by the pituitary gland. This brings to light the fact that the decisions we make and emotions we feel are not as easy to control as we may think. There are so many hormones, neurotransmitters and processes going on in our brains that we may never be consciously aware of, but that does not mean they are not affecting us. The facts about oxytocin also show the power of physical contact, not just to increase romantic feelings, but also to increase happiness, calm, and comfort.