Dads Pass “Trust Hormone” to Kids

Oxytocin increases bonding between fathers and children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Often called the "love hormone" or "trust hormone," oxytocin is a chemical that helps parents and children bond to one another and works on children's emotional development.

A recent study has found that giving fathers oxytocin not only increases their bond with their child but also increases the amount of oxytocin found in their children.

The finding means that some children's conditions related to social or emotional growth might be able to be addressed by giving a parent oxytocin without having to give any medications to the child.

"Talk to your pediatrician about your child's emotional development."

The study, led by Omri Weisman, of the Department of Psychology and the Gonda Brain Sciences Center at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, involved 35 fathers and their 5-month-old infants in two separate experiments.

First, the fathers were separated from their infants while the fathers received either oxytocin or a placebo (fake substance that looks like oxytocin). Neither the fathers nor the experimenter giving him the chemical knew whether it was real oxytocin or the placebo.

Forty minutes after the fathers the oxytocin or placebo, their children were brought to them in the observation room, and the two were connected to an ECG machine to measure changes in their heart rate.

The fathers were instructed to play freely with their children for three minutes, then not engage with them for two minutes, then to play with them again for two minutes. This is part of an established routine used in these kinds of psychology studies.

The fathers' saliva was tested multiple times and his sinuses were tested three times for amount of oxytocin. The infants' saliva and sinuses were also tested for oxytocin.

Then the same experiment was conducted again, with the fathers who originally received the placebo now receiving the real oxytocin and vice versa. This way, each father acted as his own control.

During the experiment, the fathers were asked not to drink alcohol or caffeine before the experiment and to not to eat during the two hours leading up to the experiment.

The researchers found that the fathers who had received the oxytocin displayed a range of behaviors that enhance the bonding between parent and child.

More importantly, when the fathers who had received oxytocin played with their children, the amount of oxytocin found in the babies' saliva was also increased at the same levels as the father's.

The parallel increases in oxytocin matched the parallel increases in the engagement between the fathers and their children, including more exploration, more social eye contact and more social response to one another.

Results are the first to demonstrate that oxytocin administration to one attachment partner can have parallel effects on the other and underscore the role of oxytocin in the cross-generation transmission of human social participation," the researchers concluded. "Findings have translational implications for conditions associated with early risk for social-emotional growth, including autism and prematurity, without the need to administer drugs to young infants."

The study was published July 13 in the journal Biological Psychiatry. The study was funded by the Israel Science Foundation, the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation, the National Alliance for the Research of Schizophrenia and Depression Foundation, the Katz Family Foundation, the Kor Family Foundation and the Irving B. Harris Foundation. The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 14, 2012
Last Updated:
August 16, 2012