Animal studies confirm oxytocin's (OT) role in regulating monogamous sexual behavior in pair-bonding rodents; and human studies are beginning to translate how this highly conserved neuropeptide is implicated in romantic attachment formation. A number of studies have shown how OT promotes relationship exclusivity by diminishing interest in strangers and increasing reward response to partners. Less clear is whether these effects are modulated by romantic duration or life history factors, or if OT's social distancing effects generalize beyond strangers to close relationships. We report the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study on the effects of a single dose of intranasal OT (24 IU) on forty-four young adults (91% female) in different stages of romantic attachment formation (M duration=21 months). Participants completed a screening survey and two lab visits separated by 4-weeks, including a diagrammatic measure of attachment to parents and peers, attitudes related to sexual conservatism and partner infidelity, ratings scales of closeness to romantic partners, and visual attractiveness ratings of strangers. Individual differences were examined by life history factors, including maternal love withdrawal and parental separation. Results indicated that OT administration decreased attachment to mothers, decreased attachment to subsidiary attachment figures, and decreased attraction to strangers. In all cases, emotional distancing was stronger among participants in newer romantic relationships. OT increased arousal to partner infidelity and increased sexual conservatism among participants with negative life history experiences (parental separation and high love withdrawal), whereas the reverse was true for participants reporting a more positive life history. Findings suggest that OT supports exclusivity through social distancing from strangers and close others within a sensitive period of attachment formation. In addition, findings indicate OT plays a different role in mate retention strategies by life history.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry