Parental divorce in childhood is related to lower urinary oxytocin concentrations in adulthood

Maria L Boccia, Christopher Cook, Lesley Marson, Cort Pedersen
Journal of Comparative Psychology 2021, 135 (1): 74-81
Oxytocin has been shown to be important for social behavior and emotional attachments in early life and may also mediate effects of early experiences on social motivation in adulthood. In animal models, early maternal separation results in alterations in the oxytocin system, with effects on sexual, maternal, and stress reactivity behaviors in adulthood. Studies of children experiencing parental divorce find effects on mood disorders, substance abuse, and other behaviors in adulthood. Here, we examine the effect of divorce on adult urine oxytocin levels. To stimulate oxytocin release, participants, aged 18 to 62, were asked to complete a set of questionnaires on attachment style, parental history of divorce (age at parental divorce ranged from 0 to 20), and other measures. A sample of urine was then collected for the oxytocin assay. Urine oxytocin concentrations were substantially lower (p = .016) in subjects who experienced parental divorce (M = 3.70, Standard Error of the Mean = 0.73), compared to those who did not (M = 8.00, Standard Error of the Mean = 1.21), and correlated with responses on several attachment instruments. These results suggest that oxytocin levels are adversely affected by parental divorce in humans and may be related to attachment measures in adulthood. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

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