Preliminary research on plasma oxytocin in normal cycling women:
investigating emotion and interpersonal distress
Turner RA, Altemus M, Enos T, Cooper B, McGuinness T
California School of Professional Psychology,
San Francisco, USA.
Psychiatry 1999 Summer; 62(2):97-113
The neurohormone oxytocin is responsible for initiating
childbirth and the let-down reflex in lactating women and is released during
sexual orgasm. Oxytocin has been thought of as an affiliation hormone because
research on nonhuman mammals has demonstrated that it plays a key role in
the initiation of maternal behavior and the formation of adult pair bonds.
It has been speculated that social stimuli may induce oxytocin release and
that oxytocin may make positive social contact more rewarding. Data are
presented from an initial study to examine change in plasma oxytocin in
response to a standard imagery task that elicits emotion related to attachment.
Twenty-five normal cycling, healthy women underwent imagery tasks and completed
questionnaires on attachment and interpersonal problems. Blood draws (5
ml) were bone via an indwelling catheter before, during, and after three
interventions (massage, positive emotion, and negative emotion) and to establish
baselines. Overall, the data showed a tendency for oxytocin levels to be
elevated in response to relaxation massage and decreased in response to
sad emotion. There were individual differences in response to the interventions.
Those who showed evidence of increased oxytocin levels for positive emotion
and massage and who maintained oxytocin levels during negative emotion were
less likely to report interpersonal problems associated with intrusiveness.
Maintaining oxytocin levels during sadness was also correlated with lower
anxiety in close relationships. Women who were in a couple relationship
had greater increases in oxytocin in response to positive emotion. In contrast,
higher basal levels of oxytocin were associated with greater interpersonal
distress. These data suggest that peripheral secretion of oxytocin in response
to emotional stimuli is associated with the individual's interpersonal characteristics.
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