“Sharing is caring!” your friend’s mom would chide in a singsong voice while you systematically destroyed the confetti cake at her son’s seventh birthday party, licking your icing-ed fingers and body-blocking the other (now crying) miniature party guests. “They can get their ownnn,” you would growl back in a haunting and barely recognizable voice. But a recent study shows the irritating mom adage is more valid than we thought. Researcher Roman Wittig and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany conducted a study to analyze the relationship between oxytocin and food sharing.
Known as the “bonding hormone,” oxytocin is associated with feelings of intimacy and plays a strong role in social recognition, pair bonding and sexual relationships. The study analyzed 79 urine samples from 26 wild chimpanzees from Budongo Forest in Uganda within an hour after the chimpanzees either shared food or socially fed without sharing. Wittig and his team found that “a chimpanzee’s urine contained significantly higher levels of oxytocin after sharing food with another group member than just after feeding socially…Furthermore, oxytocin levels were higher after food sharing than after grooming, another cooperative behavior, suggesting that food sharing might play a more important role in promoting social bonding.” The research found the high levels of oxytocin that result from sharing food can trigger cooperative relationships in chimps, much like breastfeeding releases oxytocin that fosters the connection between mothers and their offspring.
This is evident in the evolution of human relationships as well, writes Matt Walker for the BBC, as food sharing initially evolved between male and female primates as a way of influencing how they chose their partners. Male primates historically shared food with females to attract them for sex exchanges. Now, romance is a little more complicated than that, but if your date offers you a bite of their food, they might just be a keeper.