By Alix Spiegel for NPR:
This is a story about a fickle little hormone that plays a large role in our lives.
The name of the hormone is oxytocin, and until recently it was mostly dismissed by scientists. They knew it played a role in inducing labor and facilitating breast-feeding, but otherwise didn’t give it much attention.
But over the past 10 years, oxytocin has come up in the world, and several researchers have begun making big claims about it. Now dubbed “the trust hormone,” oxytocin, researchers say, affects everything from our day-to-day life to how we feel about our government.
The narrative of oxytocin — the trust hormone — is being rewritten.
To understand the role that oxytocin plays in your own life, consider the experience of a small 9-year-old girl named Isabelle. (NPR is not using the full family name in this story for privacy reasons.)
Isabelle lives with her mother, Jessica, in a leafy East Coast suburb. Often, Jessica says, she’ll be out running an errand when she’ll bump into a well-meaning parent whose child goes to the same school as her daughter. The parent, Jessica says, invariably has news to share about an experience with Isabelle, and the conversations always go the same way:
“They’ll say, ‘Oh, I saw your daughter at school today. She’s so cute, she always tells me, ‘I love you’ when I see her in the hallway,’ ” says Jessica. “And I’ll just be grimacing thinking, ‘There we go again.'”
Isabelle, you see, says “I love you” to everyone: to parents at her school, to people from the neighborhood, to the salesman at Circuit City.
“Oh, all the time,” Jessica says. “To Isabelle, there are no strangers — only friends she’s not yet met.”…