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Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2018;35:291-319. doi: 10.1007/7854_2017_18.

Oxytocin and Human Evolution.

Author information

1
Kinsey Institute, Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, IN, USA. suecarter@indiana.edu.

Abstract

A small, but powerful neuropeptide, oxytocin coordinates processes that are central to both human reproduction and human evolution. Also embedded in the evolution of the human nervous system are unique pathways necessary for modern human sociality and cognition. Oxytocin is necessary for facilitating the birth process, especially in light of anatomical restrictions imposed by upright human locomotion, which depends on a fixed pelvis. Oxytocin, by facilitating birth, allowed the development of a large cortex and a protective bony cranium. The complex human brain in turn permitted the continuing emergence of social sensitivity, complex thinking, and language. After birth is complete, oxytocin continues to support human development by providing direct nutrition, in the form of human milk, and emotional and intellectual support through high levels of maternal behavior and selective attachment. Oxytocin also encourages social sensitivity and reciprocal attunement, on the part of both the mother and child, which are necessary for human social behavior and for rearing an emotionally healthy human child. Oxytocin supports growth during development, resilience, and healing across the lifespan. Oxytocin dynamically moderates the autonomic nervous system, and effects of oxytocin on vagal pathways allowing high levels of oxygenation and digestion necessary to support adaptation in a complex environment. Finally, oxytocin has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, helping to explain the pervasive adaptive consequences of social behavior for emotional and physical health.

KEYWORDS:

Autonomic nervous system; Neocortex; Social behavior; Vasopressin

PMID:
28812268
DOI:
10.1007/7854_2017_18
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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