A large body of research has focused on the ability of oxytocin to facilitate social bonding in both marital and parenting relationships in human females. A new laboratory study, led by Dr. Ruth Feldman from Bar-Ilan University in Israel and published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry, has found that oxytocin administration to fathers increases their parental engagement, with parallel effects observed in their infants.
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that plays an important role in the formation of attachment bonds. Studies have shown that intranasal administration of oxytocin increases trust, empathy, and social reciprocity.
In this study, researchers examined whether oxytocin administration to the parent enhances physiological and behavioral processes that support their social engagement with their infant and improves their 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 placebo administration. The fathers received the nasal sprays in a solitary room while their infant was 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 parent and child's social behavior. Salivary oxytocin levels were measured from the fathers and infants both before and several times after the drug administration.