Effects of oxytocin on recollections of maternal care and closeness

Jennifer A. Bartz, Jamil Zaki, Kevin N. Ochsner, Niall Bolger, Alexander Kolevzon, Natasha Ludwig, John E. Lydon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although the infant-caregiver attachment bond is critical to survival, little is known about the biological mechanisms supporting attachment representations in humans. Oxytocin plays a key role in attachment bond formation and maintenance in animals and thus could be expected to affect attachment representations in humans. To investigate this possibility, weadministered 24 IU intranasal oxytocin to healthy male adults in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover designed study and then assessed memories of childhood maternal care and closeness - two features of the attachment bond. We found that the effects of oxytocin were moderated by the attachment representations people possess, with less anxiously attached individuals remembering their mother as more caring and close after oxytocin (vs. placebo) but more anxiously attached individuals remembering their mother as less caring and close after oxytocin (vs. placebo). These data contrast with the popular notion that oxytocin has broad positive effects on social perception and are more consistent with the animal literature, which emphasizes oxytocin's role in encoding social memories and linking those memories to the reward value of the social stimulus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21371-21375
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 14 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Individual differences
  • Neurohypophyseal hormones
  • Social cognition
  • Social memory
  • Syntocinon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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