Oxytocin during the initial stages of romantic attachment: Relations to couples’ interactive reciprocity

Department of Psychology and the Gonda Brain Sciences Center, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel.
Psychoneuroendocrinology (Impact Factor: 4.94). 01/2012; 37(8):1277-85. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.12.021
Source: PubMed


Romantic relationships can have a profound effect on adults' health and well-being whereas the inability to maintain intimate bonds has been associated with physical and emotional distress. Studies in monogamous mammalian species underscore the central role of oxytocin (OT) in pair-bonding and human imaging studies implicate OT-rich brain areas in early romantic love. To assess the role of OT in romantic attachment, we examined plasma OT in 163 young adults: 120 new lovers (60 couples) three months after the initiation of their romantic relationship and 43 non-attached singles. Twenty-five of the 36 couples who stayed together were seen again six months later. Couples were observed in dyadic interactions and were each interviewed regarding relationship-related thoughts and behaviors. OT was significantly higher in new lovers compared to singles, F(1,152)=109.33, p<.001, which may suggest increased activity of the oxytocinergic system during the early stages of romantic attachment. These high levels of OT among new lovers did not decrease six months later and showed high individual stability. OT correlated with the couples' interactive reciprocity, including social focus, positive affect, affectionate touch, and synchronized dyadic states, and with anxieties and worries regarding the partner and the relationship, findings which parallel those described for parent-infant bonding. OT levels at the first assessment differentiated couples who stayed together six months later from those who separated during this period. Regression analysis showed that OT predicted interactive reciprocity independent of sex, relationship duration, and the partner's OT. Findings suggest that OT may play an important role at the first stages of romantic attachment and lend support to evolutionary models suggesting that parental and romantic attachment share underlying bio-behavioral mechanisms.

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    • "Similar behavior-based OT production was found during pair-bond formation in humans. We found significant increase in plasma OT during the first three months of falling in love, which correlated with observed social reciprocity between lovers, including emotional attunement, affectionate touch, and expression of positive emotions (Schneiderman et al., 2012). Similarly, more " efficient " allelic variation on five OXTR SNPs combied into a cumulative OXTR index was associated with more empathic behavior during a support giving paradigm between new lovers (Schneiderman et al., 2014a). "

    Hormones and Behavior 09/2015; · 4.63 Impact Factor
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    • "In a recent study, people in the initial stages of romantic relationships with higher levels of plasma oxytocin had more positive interactions with their romantic partners and were less likely to break up 6 months later (Schneiderman, Zagoory-Sharon, Leckman, & Feldman, 2012). However, the evidence for connections between plasma oxytocin levels and relationship satisfaction or communication in long-term romantic relationships is mixed (see Schneiderman et al., 2012). The possible role that oxytocin plays as a neurotransmitter facilitating pair-bonding was first established in two almost identical species—the promiscuous montane vole and the monogamous prairie vole (Insel, 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: This article evaluates a thesis containing three interconnected propositions. First, romantic love is a "commitment device" for motivating pair-bonding in humans. Second, pair-bonding facilitated the idiosyncratic life history of hominins, helping to provide the massive investment required to rear children. Third, managing long-term pair bonds (along with family relationships) facilitated the evolution of social intelligence and cooperative skills. We evaluate this thesis by integrating evidence from a broad range of scientific disciplines. First, consistent with the claim that romantic love is an evolved commitment device, our review suggests that it is universal; suppresses mate-search mechanisms; has specific behavioral, hormonal, and neuropsychological signatures; and is linked to better health and survival. Second, we consider challenges to this thesis posed by the existence of arranged marriage, polygyny, divorce, and infidelity. Third, we show how the intimate relationship mind seems to be built to regulate and monitor relationships. Fourth, we review comparative evidence concerning links among mating systems, reproductive biology, and brain size. Finally, we discuss evidence regarding the evolutionary timing of shifts to pair-bonding in hominins. We conclude there is interdisciplinary support for the claim that romantic love and pair-bonding, along with alloparenting, played critical roles in the evolution of Homo sapiens. © The Author(s) 2014.
    Perspectives on Psychological Science 01/2015; 10(1):20-36. DOI:10.1177/1745691614561683 · 4.89 Impact Factor
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    • "Most of the phenotypes examined with respect to OT-AVP genetic pathways are reliant on empathy, yet little research has been dedicated to direct examination of empathy and its two facets. The few studies to examine the role of this system in empathy have focused on the OXTR gene and very little attention has been given to AVPR1a (Chakrabarti et al., 2009; Lucht et al., 2013; Montag et al., 2012; Rodrigues et al., 2009; Schneiderman et al., 2012; Wu et al., 2012) (See Supporting Material Table 1). No study to date has investigated the combined effects of these two important genes. "
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    ABSTRACT: Empathy is the ability to recognize and share in the emotions of others. It can be considered a multi-faceted concept with cognitive and emotional aspects. Little is known regarding the underlying neurochemistry of empathy and in the current study we used a neurogenetic approach to explore possible brain neurotransmitter pathways contributing to cognitive and emotional empathy. Both the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) and the arginine vasopressin receptor 1a (AVPR1a) genes contribute to social cognition in both animals and humans and hence are prominent candidates for contributing to empathy. The following research examined the associations between polymorphisms in these two genes and individual differences in emotional and cognitive empathy in a sample of 367 young adults. Intriguingly, we found that emotional empathy was associated solely with OXTR whereas cognitive empathy was associated solely with AVPR1a. Moreover, no interaction was observed between the two genes and measures of empathy. The current findings contribute to our understanding of the distinct neurogenetic pathways involved in cognitive and emotional empathy and underscore the pervasive role of both oxytocin and vasopressin in modulating human emotions. Copyright © 2014. Published by Elsevier Inc.
    Hormones and Behavior 12/2014; 67. DOI:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2014.11.007 · 4.63 Impact Factor
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