According to a recent study published in the Journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers may have discovered a new truth about the mechanics behind self-perception. The "cuddle" hormone, oxytocin, has been associated with feelings of bonding, closeness, and love. It's released when mothers breastfeed their babies, during hugs, when spending time with friends, and after sex, playing a key role in relationships with others.
This new research uncovers that oxytocin may play a role in how we think of ourselves, too. A series of three experiments (double-blind, placebo-controlled, and between-subjects) tested recall and recognition of traits of themselves, a friend, and a celebrity in approximately 50 male subjects each. The first experiment found that subjects treated with oxytocin recalled self-referential traits more quickly and accurately than traits about others. The second revealed through fMRI brain scans (functional magnetic resonance imaging) that there was reduced activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with decision and memory, when subjects with oxytocin treatment were thinking about themselves versus how they relate to others. Finally, a third experiment revealed that oxytocin treatment increased right superior frontal activity, which is often referred to as the "control center," regulating emotions and actions, when study subjects were thinking of themselves.
In context of one another, the results of the experiments done in this study imply that oxytocin does indeed affect how our brains process information when we think of ourselves versus others, specifically in memory encoding and processing of self-referential traits. Having more oxytocin in our brains when thinking about ourselves may make us more sure, but conjuring up these thoughts requires emotional processing—something that oxytocin may facilitate. So, yes, getting hugs is good for bonding but also may help improve your relationship with yourself.
While the study was well-designed, it does have some limitations. It tested only male subjects and used relatively small sample sizes. More research is needed to draw clear conclusions, but this preliminary investigation is an exciting foray into how certain hormones affect the way we perceive ourselves.