Node Smith, ND

It’s Positively Science

It’s always great to read scientific research that is being done on positive emotions, treating people with kindness and compassion and other socially enhancing factors. A recent study1 has looked at the genetic differences of how people experience positive emotion based on oxytocin signaling in the body. As it turns out, there may be a genetic link to how we process and create positive emotions. The study specifically looked at oxytocin’s connection to the generation of positive emotions.

Oxytocin is Known to be the Bonding Neurohormone

Oxytocin is a neurohormone that is known to be associated with social bonding, connecting, and behaviors which support these activities. For instance, oxytocin is significantly increased in mothers during and after the birth of a child, and it is thought that this hormone helps build the bond between mother and child. The body is also flooded with oxytocin during sexual intercourse, and intense emotional experiences between friends and loved ones. It is thought that human touch does support the release of oxytocin (when it is welcomed and comforting).

Loving-Kindness Study

This specific study looked at various SNPs of 2 genetic variants of oxytocin signaling, and how they affected positive emotions that were context-specific and dependent on sociality.

122 middle aged adults participated in either a socially focused loving-kindness training, or a mindfulness training (that did not have a social component). They reported their positive emotions daily. The SNPs within the 2 genes (OXTR and CD38) were analyzed and tested for individual effect on daily emotions. There emerged a definitive correlation.

Can you be Genetically Predisposed to Loving-Kindness?

Individuals homozygous for the G allele of OXTR rs1042778 experienced increases in daily positive emotions from loving-kindness training. Individuals with the T allele did not experience increases in positive emotions with either training.

What does this mean to the Average Person?

Well, it points to a genetic hard-wiring for how we are inclined to build positive emotions from social interactions. It’s also research that could help explain elements that are likely to be included on certain genetic profiling services soon (if they aren’t already).


  1. Isgett SF, Algoe SB, Boulton AJ, Way BM, Fredrickson BL. Common variant in OXTR predicts growth in positive emotions from loving-kindness training. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016;73:244-251.
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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