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Oxytocin, Mirror Neurons, and Sentient Plant Life

MadeforEachOtherBookIn my last post, I introduced you to a great book called “Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond” by Meg Daley Olmert.

Of course, this book addresses the mutual benefits to humans and non-humans of making and maintaining close-knit cooperative bonds.

What I did not expect to encounter within its pages was evidence to support that plants can achieve the same.

I love plants. However, the feeling has never seemed particularly mutual.

Even my highest best intentions has not produced any surefire way to keep the plants in my household either green or alive. So imagine my surprise when I read the following:

Susan Dudley and Amanda File of McMaster University in Ontario found that plants, like humans and animals, are capable of social recognition. Plants actually recognize other plants that are related to them, and when they see another plant as kin, they refrain from competing with it for root territory. It is not known whether plants can extend any sort of social recognition to the humans who care for them, but James Cahill of the University of Alberta and his colleagues found that they do respond to human touch. 

Sooooo interesting! What I found most interesting is that Cahill’s touch experiments yielded a mixed bag of results: some plants grew bigger and stronger, some fell prey to insects, and others remain[ed] unaffected. Researchers still have no idea why.

I have a thought on this. Perhaps plants, like animals and humans, have their preferences. Some have an innate desire for more sociability, while others can get by with much less.

Since scientists today are systematically showcasing how many of humans’ and animals’ so-called intellectual or emotional preferences have biological roots, why would the same not hold true for the other major life form we share this planet with?

As well, as humans’ centuries-long connection with the land and plant life is now dissolving (thanks in large part to genetically engineered food growing and manufacturing practices), the effects are being seen worldwide. Here it would seem our passion for innovation creates partnerships and then breaks them down almost as fast.

What we tend to do as a substitution is to spend money. Today’s farmers have discovered a lucrative income stream in “tourist farms.” Basically, city folk can buy a “day at the farm” to the tune of millions of dollars in revenue per year. Farmers who can no longer stay in the black by tilling the earth now make bank by letting the rest of us do it – and charging us for the privilege.

We buy our time on the farm because we need it – biologically, emotionally, spiritually – in every way that matters.

And at day’s end, we have (hopefully) touched only the plants that like to be touched and let the rest be, filled up on the bonding powers of feel-good oxytocin, capitalized on our mirror neurons’ native empathy to reconnect with nature and the land, and returned to our urban ways with a firmer commitment to make more daily mutually nourishing space for the plants, animals, and people that enrich our lives in ways dollars never can.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you have any experience with farming? Have you ever spent a “day on a farm,” imagining as you did what it must have been like to be one of your own ancestors? What do you do to stay connected with nature through plants and animals – and can you feel specific benefits when you make the effort?


Oxytocin, Mirror Neurons, and Sentient Plant Life

Shannon Cutts

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2014). Oxytocin, Mirror Neurons, and Sentient Plant Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 17 Jan 2014
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