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Oxytocin the Human Hormone: A Report from a Life in Science

If you are not holding the hormone oxytocin in the highest regard now, you will after listening to this episode’s guest, Sue Carter, PhD, as she explains how this remarkable hormone may hold the key to much of what makes us who we are. In particular, Dr. Carter describes the myriad ways that oxytocin allows humans to feel safe enough in the world and with each other to engage in the many types of bonding/sharing behaviors that have allowed us to create the world in which we live. The science is fascinating and highly relevant to our health and well-being, but in this podcast, Dr. Carter reaches further into our shared humanity to tell the tale of how she discovered the power of oxytocin when she was given the hormone to help induce labor during her first pregnancy and how her body’s intense response to the hormone made her realize how little medical uses to induce labor captured the more profound aspects of oxytocin’s effects on the human brain and body. From that beginning, Dr. Carter describes how she overcame many of the challenges that she faced and that women devoted to a career in science continue to face.

Dr. Carter is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia and a Distinguished Research Scientist and Rudy Professor Emerita of Biology at Indiana University. She has held Professorships at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Maryland, College Park (where she was a Distinguished University Professor), and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Between 2014 and 2019 she was the Executive Director of the Kinsey Institute. Dr. Carter’s research was integral to discovering the relationship between social behavior and oxytocin. She was the first person to detect and define the endocrinology of social bonds through her research on the socially monogamous, prairie vole. These findings helped lay the foundation for ongoing studies of the behavioral and developmental effects of oxytocin and vasopressin and a deeper appreciation for the biological importance of relationships in human health and well-being.

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