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Explain, using examples, the function of two hormones on human behavior

The endocrine system is a system of glands in the human body that secretes chemicals called hormones.  It is controlled by a brain structured called the hypothalamus.

Hormone 1: Cortisol

Cortisol and memory

  • Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal cortex in response to stress and to restore homeostasis (the body’s normal balance). Chronic stress may result in prolonged cortisol secretion and this can lead to physiological changes such as damaged immune system and impairment of learning and memory. This is because high amounts of cortisol results in atrophy of the hippocampus.

Study to use: Newcomer et al. (1999)



Hormone 2: Oxytocin

Oxytocin and trust

  • The hormone oxytocin is secreted by the hypothalamus and released (1) into the blood stream via the pituitary gland or (2) into the brain and spinal cord where it binds to oxytocin receptors. Oxytocin acts primarily as a neurotransmitter in the brain.
  • Oxytocin has been linked to trusting other people. Experimental manipulation of oxytocin levels has shown increase in trust.
  • According to evolutionary psychologists, trust is an important social tool in the relationship between humans. Trust is an adaptive mechanism as it helps humans to form meaningful relationships at a personal and professional level. Betrayal disrupts bonds of trust and may result in avoidance of the person who has betrayed you.
  • Learning who to trust and who to avoid is important for survival and the well-being of an individual. Humans should also be able to move on after experiences of breaching trust if long-term relationships and mental well-being are to be preserved.
  • Oxytocin could play a role in reducing fear reactions via the amygdala that may arise as a consequence of betrayal.

Study to use: Baumgartner et al. (2008)