Women’s hormones – the key to world peace?

Posted on: November 4, 2013

A recent UN report[1] states that women are natural peacemakers. This is because under stress women produce oxytocin, the bonding hormone, rather than testosterone, the “fight and flight” hormone.  Until now women’s hormones have had a bad press and are blamed for women’s mood swings and worse – but maybe they could be the key to a more harmonious world? The report states “Women reduce stress by sharing perceptions, feelings and strategies, which is called the ‘tend and befriend” oxytocin response and which is enhanced by oestrogen. This hormonal response supports dialogue, collaboration and peaceful resolution of conflicts, in contrast to men’s “fight or flight” physiological adrenaline and testosterone response to stress, which increases aggression and competitiveness.”

It goes on to say “For peace and sustainability, political decisions and budgets need to be more oxytocin-influenced and less testosterone-driven”.

For example, only the other week the US budget deadlock was resolved by women from both Republican and Democrat parties getting together, working out a compromise and then selling it to their respective parties[2].  Visiting the Nobel Museum in Stockholm last week[3] I learnt that it was a woman, Bertha von Suttner, who persuaded Alfred Nobel to create a prize for peace alongside the prizes for science and literature.

The conclusions are clear.  In order to have wise leadership we need women in positions of power in significant numbers and men need to cultivate a more oxytocin-based leadership style.  This is not a male vs. female position – everyone benefits when women have a voice in decisions.

The good news is that oxytocin can be cultivated. A quick way to boost your oxytocin, whether male or female, is to have a hug.  A 20 second hug has been shown to raise oxytocin levels for many hours afterwards.  So, the next time you have to go into a difficult negotiation or handle a stressful situation, ask a loved one to give you a hug first.

[1] UN Economic and Social council’s Commission on the Status of Women, after the Fourth World conference on Women 2011

[3] Image is The Nobel Museum in Stockholm.

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