Oxytocin, high-fives, and exam performance

Here’s the article on oxytocin and exam performance I mentioned in class on Thursday. Oxytocin has been called the “cuddle hormone” because it has been shown to mediate trust, connection, monogamy, and basically any other good emotion that occurs in relationship with others. But you don’t have to cuddle to reap oxytocin’s benefits! This article talks at length about research showing how small, physical interactions (a touch on the arm, a high-five, etc.) have a positive effect on both the toucher and the touchee.

Some of the positive effects are what you’d expect: small touches have been shown to ease pain, soothe depression, deepen a relationship. But it turns out that small touches have another, more surprising effect: they can improve performance!  The article states:

“If a high five or an equivalent can in fact enhance performance, on the field or in the office, that may be because it reduces stress. A warm touch seems to set off the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps create a sensation of trust, and to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”

How could oxytocin (a “relationship” hormone) have anything to do with personal performance? The article offers an interesting suggestion:

“In the brain, prefrontal areas, which help regulate emotion, can relax, freeing them for another of their primary purposes: problem solving. In effect, the body interprets a supportive touch as ‘I’ll share the load.’”

So: more high-fives, more touches on the arm, more secret handshakes around exam. It can’t hurt!

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