Those of us who have been parents probably remember moments of incredible attachment to our children. Times when we were happy to just hold them while they were sleeping, and nothing else in the world seemed important. It is a state that is somewhat like the experience of new love.
Recent research suggests that part of what creates that state is a hormone named oxytocin.
Oxytocin has long been used to induce labor in women. But even way back there were intriguing reports that oxytocin increased memory (It turns out that it is a particular kind of memory, social memory, the memory of people you have met).
Now oxytocin is getting a lot of press as the hormone of love…
That is not quite right. Because oxytocin also seems to increase aggression against “outsiders”.
But if you have held your child in your arms you can understand that, you would have in that moment done anything to protect your child. And if not you can imagine what it is like to intrude upon a mother bear and her cubs…
So what is it that oxytocin does?
It creates a sense of close connection, it is increased in the early stages of romantic love. In women there is a huge increase after birth. It increases, to a lesser extent, in men after their partner gives birth.
It seems to boost ability to remember people. Rats who don’t have the receptor for oxytocin (who don’t respond to it) seem to be unable to remember other rats they have previously met.
And most recently researchers report in the July issue of Biological Psychiatry that if you give oxytocin to new dad’s it increases their attachment to their kids, and their kids respond in kind.