Maternal oxytocin response during mother-infant interaction: Associations with adult temperament

Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA.
Hormones and Behavior (Impact Factor: 4.63). 01/2012; 61(3):429-35. DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.01.014
Source: PubMed


Oxytocin is a neuropeptide associated with social affiliation and maternal caregiving. However, its effects appear to be moderated by various contextual factors and stable individual characteristics. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship of self-reported state and trait measures (such as temperament, mood and affect) with peripheral oxytocin response in mothers. Fifty-five first-time mothers participated in a semi-structured procedure, during which time repeated peripheral oxytocin levels were measured before, during and after an episode of mother-infant interaction. The maternal oxytocin response was then calculated, based on the difference in oxytocin concentration between initial baseline and interaction phase. Mothers also completed state measures of positive and negative affect and depression, and trait measures of temperament, personality disturbance and depression across time. Regression analyses determined which factors were independently associated with maternal oxytocin response. The trait measure of adult temperament emerged as a significant predictor of oxytocin response. Two out of four Adult Temperament Questionnaire factor scales were independently associated with oxytocin response: Effortful Control was negatively associated, whereas Orienting Sensitivity was positively associated. No state measure significantly predicted oxytocin response. The results indicate that mothers who show an increased oxytocin response when interacting with their infants are more sensitive of moods, emotions and physical sensations; and less compulsive, schedule driven and task oriented. These findings link differences in individual temperament in new mothers with the peripheral oxytocin response, which may have implications in the pharmacologic treatment of disorders such as maternal neglect, post-partum depression and maternal addiction. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Social Behavior.

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    • "However, as mentioned in the Introduction section, it is certainly possible for early neuropeptide functioning to influence an individual’s propensity to form friendships as well (e.g., Bales et al., 2007b). Previous research suggests that peripheral neuropeptide concentrations reflect both trait-level characteristics (i.e., personality or temperament) and state-level factors (i.e., aspects of an individual’s social environment and interactions; Strathearn et al., 2012), thus the peripheral concentrations in our subjects could have similarly been a product not only of the state-level variables of friendship involvement, but of trait-level variables such as temperament, which our earlier studies have shown to influence rhesus macaque friendships (Weinstein and Capitanio, 2008, 2012). Examining the relationship between temperament and neuropeptide concentrations in this species is a direction that we are currently pursuing. "
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    ABSTRACT: The neuropeptides oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (AVP) are involved in social bonding in attachment relationships, but their role in friendship is poorly understood. We investigated whether rhesus macaques’ (Macaca mulatta) friendships at age one predicted plasma OT and AVP at two later time points. Subjects were 54 rhesus macaques at the California National Primate Research Center. Blood was drawn during a brief capture-and-release in the home cage, and plasma assayed for OT and AVP using an enzyme immunoassay. Separate linear mixed models for each sex tested the effects of dominance rank, age, sampling time point, housing condition, parturition status, two blood draw timing measures, and five friendship types: proximity friendships, play friendships, reciprocal friendships (a preference for a peer that also preferred the subject), multiplex friendships (friendships displayed in more than one behavioral domain), and total number of friendships. Females’ number of reciprocal and play friendships at age one significantly predicted later OT; additionally, these two friendship types interacted with rank, such that high-ranking females with the fewest friendships had the highest OT concentrations. Friendship did not predict later OT levels in males, however proximity, play, reciprocal, and total number of friendships predicted males’ plasma AVP. Play and total number of friendships also tended to predict AVP in females. Our results show that peripheral measures of neuroendocrine functioning in juvenile rhesus monkeys are influenced by early involvement in friendships. Friendships have an especially strong impact on an individual’s psychosocial development, and our data suggest OT and AVP as potential underlying mechanisms. Moreover, sex differences in the functioning of the OT and AVP systems, and their relation to friendship, may have important clinical implications for the use of OT as a therapeutic, as well as informing the social context in which it is administered.
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    • "Similarly , given that 87.8% of the sample reported they were still breastfeeding at T3, the small group size of women who did not report breastfeeding, and the potential lack of variance therein, may have prevented the statistical detection of differences by breastfeeding status (i.e., Type II error). However, some previous studies have found that breastfeeding status was unrelated to postpartum levels of oxytocin (e.g., Gordon et al., 2010; Strathearn et al., 2012). Our findings suggest that, contrary to other reports (e.g., Heinrichs et al., 2003), endogenous oxytocin may not influence maternal social cognition or behavior by reducing anxiety or psychological reactivity to stressors. "
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    ABSTRACT: The present longitudinal study examined the relations between plasma oxytocin, theory of mind, and maternal interactive behavior during the perinatal period. A community sample of women was assessed at 12-14 weeks gestation, 32-34 weeks gestation, and 7-9 weeks postpartum. Oxytocin during late pregnancy was significantly positively correlated with a measure of theory of mind, and predicted theory of mind ability after controlling for parity, maternal education, prenatal psychosocial risk, and general anxiety, measured during the first trimester. Theory of mind was associated with less remote and less depressive maternal interactive behavior. Oxytocin, across all time points, was not directly related to maternal interactive behavior. However, there was a significant indirect effect of oxytocin during late pregnancy on depressive maternal behavior via theory of mind ability. These preliminary findings suggest that changes in the oxytocinergic system during the perinatal period may contribute to the awareness of social cues, which in turn plays a role in maternal interactive behavior.
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    • "The authors concluded that interaction with an unfamiliar child might constitute a more stressful situation that results in an increase in OT in order to modulate this stress. It is possible that HSMs perceive their infant signals as a positive event (Turner et al., 2002), give appropriate attention and focus to these signals (Strathearn et al., 2012), and that their plasma OT levels accordingly reflects this and falls during play with infant. By contrast, LSMs may not perceive interaction with their infant as a positive event; they do not give proper attention and focus to their infant signals, and accordingly, their OT levels remain relatively elevated. "
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    ABSTRACT: Maternal sensitivity to infant cues and developmental needs may be pivotal for social and cognitive development. Animal and recent human studies emphasise a major role for Oxytocin (OT) in mediating sensitive caregiving but no study has examined the relationship between OT and extreme variation in human maternal sensitivity. From 105 expectant mothers, 80 underwent blind-rating of maternal sensitivity at 4-6 months postpartum through free-play interaction with their infants. At 7-9 months postpartum, 30 mothers at extremes of maternal sensitivity: 15 'sensitive mothers' (high sensitivity mothers - HSMs), (mean=4.47; SD=0.74)) and 15 'less sensitive mothers' (low sensitivity mothers - LSMs), (mean=2.13; SD=0.52)) underwent plasma OT measurements before and after 10 minutes infant play. Baseline and post-interaction plasma OT was higher in LSMs than HSMs [F(1, 26)=8.42; p=0.01]. HSMs showed a trend towards significant reduction in plasma OT [t(14)=2.01;p=0.06] following play-interaction; no change was shown by LSMs [t(13)=- 0.14;p=0.89]. Higher baseline OT levels in healthy LSMs may imply greater stress responses to the demands of caring for an infant, or past deficiencies in own parenting relationship and act as a biomarker for poor parental sensitivity. OT may be acting to reduce stress and anxiety in LSMs consistent with studies of plasma OT and stress in women. By contrast, in HSMs, play interaction with their infants maybe relaxing as indicated by significant reduction in plasma OT from baseline. Ascertainment of mothers in well-defined sensitivity groups might facilitate examination of distinct coping strategies in parents and better understanding of variation in parental caregiving behaviour and its potential for modulation by OT.
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