Inside the Loneliness Lab
Birth Stories, Natural and Medicated

Oxytocin Meets Home Design

The intense interest in oxytocin continues, reaching even the real estate and design magazines.

In a story from Inman News, Katherine Salant makes the case that today's mania for huge houses with master suites, kids' private entertainment centers and separate bathrooms is bad for us and bad for society.

She writes,

Anytime you are with people you are close to and trust, your brain releases oxytocin. This reinforces the brain's bonding circuits and you feel calmer, explained Louann Brizendine, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco and the author of "The Female Brain." When teenaged girlfriends chatter endlessly, they literally feel better because oxytocin is surging in their brains, she said.

To get the benefits of oxytocin's calming effect and what Brizendine calls "body time," however, "you have to be in the same place, see and sense the other person, and breathe the same air," she said.

The bigger the house and the more rooms inside, she says, the more opportunity family members have to spread out -- and avoid each other. Salant also covers the way the social brain develops after birth, in response to the nurturing and interaction we get.

I'm not sure her thesis holds so true. Even mothers and fathers who dwell in McMansions likely spend about the same amount of facetime with their babies as do the denizens of one-bedroom apartments. Certainly, we need continuous social interaction. By the time the kids are old enough for their own computers, TVs and phones, they're probably getting whatever oxytocin they can from friends -- including boyfriends or girlfriends, since kids start dating at 11 or 12.

Still, no matter what size your domicile is, it probably is good advice to make sure the family gathers regularly to breathe the same air and look at each others' faces.