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Oxytocin enhances the experience of attachment security


Buchheim, A; Heinrichs, M; George, C; Pokorny, D; Koops, E; Henningsen, P; O'Connor, M F; Gündel, H (2009). Oxytocin enhances the experience of attachment security. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(9):1417-1422.

Abstract

Repeated interactions between infant and caregiver result in either secure or insecure relationship attachment patterns, and insecure attachment may affect individual emotion-regulation and health. Given that oxytocin enhances social approach behavior in animals and humans, we hypothesized that oxytocin might also promote the subjective experience of attachment security in humans. Within a 3-week interval, 26 healthy male students classified with an insecure attachment pattern were invited twice to an experimental session. At the beginning of each experiment, a single dose of oxytocin or placebo was administered intranasally, using a double-blind, placebo-controlled within-subject design. In both conditions, subjects completed an attachment task based on the Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (AAP). Thirty-two AAP picture system presentations depicted attachment-related events (e.g. illness, solitude, separation, and loss), and were each accompanied by four prototypical phrases representing one secure and three insecure attachment categories. In the oxytocin condition, a significant proportion of these insecure subjects (N=18; 69%) increased in their rankings of the AAP prototypical "secure attachment" phrases and decreased in overall ranking of the "insecure attachment" phrases. In particular, there was a significant decrease in the number of subjects ranking the pictures with "insecure-preoccupied" phrases from the placebo to the oxytocin condition. We find that a single dose of intranasally administered oxytocin is sufficient to induce a significant increase in the experience of attachment security in insecurely attached adults.

Abstract

Repeated interactions between infant and caregiver result in either secure or insecure relationship attachment patterns, and insecure attachment may affect individual emotion-regulation and health. Given that oxytocin enhances social approach behavior in animals and humans, we hypothesized that oxytocin might also promote the subjective experience of attachment security in humans. Within a 3-week interval, 26 healthy male students classified with an insecure attachment pattern were invited twice to an experimental session. At the beginning of each experiment, a single dose of oxytocin or placebo was administered intranasally, using a double-blind, placebo-controlled within-subject design. In both conditions, subjects completed an attachment task based on the Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (AAP). Thirty-two AAP picture system presentations depicted attachment-related events (e.g. illness, solitude, separation, and loss), and were each accompanied by four prototypical phrases representing one secure and three insecure attachment categories. In the oxytocin condition, a significant proportion of these insecure subjects (N=18; 69%) increased in their rankings of the AAP prototypical "secure attachment" phrases and decreased in overall ranking of the "insecure attachment" phrases. In particular, there was a significant decrease in the number of subjects ranking the pictures with "insecure-preoccupied" phrases from the placebo to the oxytocin condition. We find that a single dose of intranasally administered oxytocin is sufficient to induce a significant increase in the experience of attachment security in insecurely attached adults.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:2009
Deposited On:08 Jan 2010 10:50
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 13:38
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0306-4530
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.04.002
PubMed ID:19457618

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