Oxytocin, cortisol, and triadic family interactions

Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel.
Physiology & Behavior (Impact Factor: 2.98). 12/2010; 101(5):679-84. DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.08.008
Source: PubMed


The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) supports the development of parenting in mammals primarily through its impact on parent-infant proximity and touch behaviors; however, much less is known about the links between OT and parental touch and contact in humans. In this study, we examined the relations between maternal and paternal OT and patterns of touch and contact in the family unit during triadic interactions. Thirty-seven parents and their firstborn child were seen twice: during the 2nd and 6th postpartum month. Plasma OT and salivary cortisol (CT) were assessed with ELISA methods. At six months, triadic mother-father-infant interactions were videotaped and micro-coded for patterns of proximity, touch, and gaze behavior. Triadic synchrony, defined as moments of coordination between physical proximity and affectionate touch between the parents as well as between parent and infant while both parent and child are synchronizing their social gaze, was predicted by both maternal and paternal OT. Among mothers, triadic synchrony was also independently related to lower levels of CT. Results highlight the role of OT in the early formation of the family unit at the transition to parenthood.

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Available from: Ruth Feldman
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    • "In fathers, associations were found between levels of OT and prolactin. Both hormones supported father-child social play in different ways, OT correlated with person-oriented social play and prolactin with object-oriented exploratory play (Gordon et al., 2010b). OT administration to fathers, in addition to dramatically increasing OT levels in father and child, also altered father's testosterone and cortisol levels, both as a function of father interactive behavior in the gaze, affect, vocal, and touch modalities and the amount of social reciprocity between father and infant (Weisman et al., 2013, 2014). "

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    • "We found that romantic couples exhibiting greater social reciprocity and goal-directed partnership, including the expression of positive affect, matched dyadic states, visual attention to partner, consistent and predictable style, and focus on listening to the partner and jointly accomplishing the task at hand, had lower daily cortisol production and attenuated CAR. These findings echo research of the parent-infant relationship which indicated that reciprocity, synchrony , and partnership in the mother-child and father-child relationship were associated with reduced cortisol response as indexed by lower plasma CT, reduced diurnal cortisol, and lower salivary cortisol response to momentary stressors linked with attachment relationship (e.g., the still-face effect) (Feldman et al. 2007, 2009, 2010; Gordon et al. 2010). These findings are consistent with our conceptualization (Feldman et al. 2012a) that parallel biological processes underpin parental and romantic attachment , that the two types of affilative bonds are expressed in similar forms of social behavior, and that in both attachments the effects of the relationship on biological processes is mediated by the partners' interactive behaviors during moments of social contact. "
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    ABSTRACT: Early-stage romantic love constitutes a unique phase associated with distinct brain activations and neuro-hormonal processes that function to consolidate the affiliative bond. Little research addressed functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitaryadrenal (HPA) axis during this phase or tested the relationship between cortisol and interactive behavior in new lovers. The current study examined daily cortisol production in 113 healthy young adults, including 79 new lovers who began a romantic relationship within the past 3 months and 34 demographically-matched singles. Saliva samples were collected three times per day on two consecutive days: at awakening, 30 minutes post-awakening, and at bedtime. Couples were videotaped during naturalistic interactions and self-reported on their relationship quality. Basal cortisol, total daily cortisol (AUCg), and cortisol awakening response (CAR) were assessed. New lovers exhibited lower daily cortisol production and blunted CAR, suggesting that the initiation of a romantic bond attenuates the stress response. Observed social reciprocity and goal-directed partnership and reported commitment to the relationship were associated with lower daily cortisol. Findings are consistent with research on the effects of intimate partner relationships on the stress response and support our bio behavioral synchronymodel by demonstrating links between neuroendocrine processes and reciprocal social behavior during periods of bond formation in humans.
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    • "Plasma oxytocin levels in mothers positively correlated to the amount of maternal bonding behaviors, such as gaze, vocalizations, affectionate touch, mother–infant behavioral synchrony, and attachment style (Feldman et al., 2007, 2011; Strathearn et al., 2009; Gordon et al., 2010a,b). Paternal behavior and father–infant affect synchrony have also been associated with oxytocin levels in plasma and saliva (Gordon et al., 2010a,b,c; Feldman et al., 2011). Both fathers and mothers who provide high levels of contact toward their infants show increased salivary oxytocin following parent–infant interactions, and such an increase is not observed among parents displaying low levels of contact (Feldman et al., 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: The neuropeptide oxytocin plays a central role in prosocial and parental behavior in non-human mammals as well as humans. It has been suggested that oxytocin may affect visual processing of infant faces and emotional reaction to infants. Healthy male volunteers (N = 13) were tested for their ability to detect infant or adult faces among adult or infant faces (facial visual search task). Urine samples were collected from all participants before the study to measure the concentration of oxytocin. Urinary oxytocin positively correlated with performance in the facial visual search task. However, task performance and its correlation with oxytocin concentration did not differ between infant faces and adult faces. Our data suggests that endogenous oxytocin is related to facial visual cognition, but does not promote infant-specific responses in unmarried men who are not fathers.
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