Oxytocin, the 'cuddle hormone', intensifies memories that are already there of mother's affections during childhood, says a new study.
Researchers at the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine wanted to determine whether oxytocin, a hormone and neurotransmitter that is known to regulate attachment and social memory in animals, is also involved in human attachment memories.
They conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial, giving 31 healthy adult men oxytocin or a placebo delivered nasally on two occasions.
Prior to administering the drug/placebo, the researchers measured the men's attachment style.
About 90 minutes after administering the oxytocin or the placebo the researchers assessed participants' recollection of their mother's care and closeness in childhood.
They found that men who were less anxious and more securely attached remembered their mothers as more caring and remembered being closer to their mothers in childhood when they received oxytocin, compared to when they received placebo.
However, men who were more anxiously attached remembered their mothers as less caring and remembered being less close to their mothers in childhood when they received oxytocin, compared to when they received placebo. These results were not due to more general effects of oxytocin on mood or well-being.
"These results may seem surprising because researchers have assumed that the neuromodulator oxytocin has ubiquitous positive effects on social behavior and social perception in humans," said Jennifer Bartz, Assistant Professor, Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and lead author of the study.
"The fact that oxytocin did not make all participants remember their mother as more caring, but in fact intensified the positivity or negativity of the men's pre-existing memories, suggests that oxytocin plays a more specific role in these attachment representations. We believe that oxytocin may help people form memories about important social information in their environment and attach incentive value to those memories," she added.
The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.