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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Oct;34(9):1417-22. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.04.002. Epub 2009 May 19.

Oxytocin enhances the experience of attachment security.

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Department of Psychology, Clinical Psychology, University of Innsbruck, Innrain 52, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.


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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