Dr. Shahal Rozenblatt, Clinical Neuropsychologist, New York

JPost- Love hormone’ produces more engaged fathers

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‘Love hormone’ produces more engaged fathers

01/05/2013 23:13

Oxytocin is a hormone that facilitates bonding between mothers and newborns and between men and women in relationships.

Photo by: REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

Oxytocin, dubbed “the love hormone,” has for years been known by scientists to facilitate bonding between mothers and newborn babies and between men and women in relationships.

But a new laboratory study led by Dr. Ruth Feldman from Bar-Ilan University and recently published in Biological Psychiatry has found that giving oxytocin to fathers increases their parental engagement, with similar effects observed in their infants.

Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that plays an important role in the formation of attachment bonds.

Studies have shown that when given as a nasal spray, it increases trust, empathy and social reciprocity.

It has even been shown in some studies to alleviate autism.

In this study, researchers examined whether administering oxytocin to the father enhances physiological and behavioral processes that support social engagement with his infant and improves his parenting. They also examined whether oxytocin effects on the parent’s behavior would affect related physiological and behavioral processes in the infant.

Thirty-five fathers and their five-month- old infants were observed twice – once after oxytocin administration and once after given a harmless, useless placebo. The fathers received the nasal sprays in a solitary room while their infants were cared for in another room.

After 40 minutes, fathers and infants were reunited and engaged in face-to-face play that was micro-coded for the parent’s and the child’s social behavior.

Levels of oxytocin in the saliva were measured from the fathers and infants both before and several times after giving the drug.

“We found that after oxytocin administration, fathers’ salivary oxytocin rose dramatically – more than tenfold – and similar increases were found in the infants’ oxytocin.

After getting the neuropeptide, key parenting behavior, such as their touching of the babies and social reciprocity, increased, but infant social behavior, including social gaze and exploratory behavior, increased as well,” explained Feldman.

“We should not be surprised that social bonding in male parents is affected by many of the same biological mechanisms that have been identified for females,” commented Dr. John Krystal, editor of the journal. “The question arising from this study is whether there is a way to harness the power of oxytocin to promote paternal engagement with their infants in families where this is a problem.”

Feldman concluded, “Such findings have salient implications for the potential treatment of young children at risk for social difficulties, including premature infants; siblings of children with autism; or children of depressed mothers, without the need to administer drugs to a young infant.”