In humans, oxytocin has been shown to be associated with delivery, mood regulation, sexual functioning and parenting behaviours. Emerging studies are showing an increasing link between oxytocin levels in humans and parent-child relationships. One idea is that increased oxytocin levels facilitates postnatal parental behaviour and the formation of an emotional bond between parent and infant, in mothers and fathers alike, by acting to reduce anxiety and ameliorate responses to external stresses. Parents who have a less anxious state of mind are able to increase their focus on infant care, improve mood and facilitate the capacity to read non-verbal infant cues and stimulate the social learning and reward system in response to infant cues. Although there are strong animal models for the role of oxytocin in parental behaviour, one of the key questions in the development of a psychobiology of human caregiving and attachment is the degree to which the considerable variation in parenting can be accounted for through similar biological mechanisms such as the mediating role of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) polymorphisms and experimentally indiced oxytocin levels.
We conducted several correlational studies documenting the role of OXTR in parenting, and carried out various randomized control trials showing that oxytocin enhances male and female sensitivity to child signals, in natural play settings as well as with a cry paradigm, using behavioral assessments, EEG/ERP and fMRI. A meta-analysis on experimental studies with intranasal oxytocin administration (‘A sniff of trust” in press with Psychoneuroendocrinology) was conducted showing that feelings of trust are elevated and that the expected lowering of out-group trust was not confirmed.
Galbally, Lewis, VanIJzendoorn, Permezel 2011The Role of Oxytocin in Mother-Infant Relations, pdf file
Naber, VanIJzendoorn, Deschamps et al. 2010 Intranasal oxytocin increases fathers’ observed responsiveness during play with their children, pdf file
Riem, Pieper, Out, Bakermans-Kranenburg, VanIJzendoorn 2010 Oxytocin receptor gene and depressive symptoms, pdf file
Bakermans-Kranenburg, VanIJzendoorn 2008 Oxytocin receptor (OXTR) and serotonin transporter (5-HTT) genes associated with observed parenting, pdf file