Helping hands, healthy body? Oxytocin receptor gene and prosocial behavior interact to buffer the association between stress and physical health

Providing help or support to others buffers the associations between stress and physical health. We examined the function of the neurohormone oxytocin as a biological mechanism for this stress-buffering phenomenon. Participants in a longitudinal study completed a measure of charitable behavior, and over the next two years provided assessments of stressful life events and physician-diagnosed physical ailments. Results indicated that charitable behavior buffered the associations between stressful events and new-onset ailments among individuals with the AA/AG genotypes of oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) variant rs53576, but not among those with the GG genotype. These results suggest that oxytocin function may significantly affect health and may help explain the associations between prosocial behavior and health. More broadly, these findings are consistent with a role for the caregiving behavioral system in health and well-being.