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.

Download full-text


Available from: Ruth Feldman
  • Source
    • "Some of these mechanisms might also contribute to the long-term attachment (and love) that occurs in many human couples (Numan, 2015). Schneiderman et al. (2012) measured blood levels of oxytocin in new lovers 3 months after the initiation of a romantic relationship, and such oxytocin levels were higher than those measured in non-attached single individuals. More importantly, oxytocin levels varied in the new lovers, and those couples that had higher levels of oxytocin at 3 months were more likely to have stayed together in their relationship 6 months later. "
    [Show description] [Hide description]
    DESCRIPTION: This paper was published online in Emotion Researcher, ISRE's Sourcebook for Research on Emotion and Affect, Andrea Scarantino (ed.),, January, 2016.
    Full-text · Research · Jan 2016
  • Source
    • "For instance, monogamous prairie voles exhibit higher OXT receptor (OXTR) densities in the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens (NAcc) compared to polygamous montane voles (Shapiro and Insel, 1992) and exogenous administration of OXT into the cerebrospinal fluid of male and female prairie voles induces their partner preferences (Cho et al., 1999). In humans, peripheral OXT concentrations were significantly higher in new lovers compared to singles (Schneiderman et al., 2012) and OXT stimulated men in a monogamous relationship, but not single men, to keep a greater distance between themselves and an attractive woman during a first social encounter (Scheele et al., 2012). Furthermore, we have previously shown that the intranasal administration of OXT biases men towards perceiving their female partners as more attractive and elicits increased activity in neural reward regions, including the NAcc, when viewing the faces of their partners (Scheele et al., 2013). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The hypothalamic peptide oxytocin (OXT) has been identified as a key modulator of pair-bonding in men, but its effects in women are still elusive. Moreover, there is substantial evidence that hormonal contraception (HC) influences partner preferences and sexual satisfaction, which constitute core domains of OXT function. We thus hypothesized that OXT effects on partner-related behavioral and neural responses could be significantly altered in women using HC. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study involving 40 pair-bonded women, 21 of whom were using HC, we investigated whether a 24-IU nasal dose of OXT would modulate brain reward responses evoked by the romantic partner’s face relative to the faces of familiar and unfamiliar people. Treatment with OXT increased the perceived attractiveness of the partner relative to other men, which was paralleled by elevated responses in reward-associated regions, including the nucleus accumbens. These effects of OXT were absent in women using HC. Our results confirm and extend previous findings in men that OXT interacts with the brain reward system to reinforce partner value representations, indicating a common OXT-dependent mechanism underlying partner attraction in both sexes. This mechanism may be disturbed in women using HC, suggesting that gonadal steroids could alter partner-specific OXT effects.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
  • Source
    • "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). "

    Full-text · Article · Sep 2015 · Hormones and Behavior
Show more