Indexed on: 24 Feb '16Published on: 24 Feb '16Published in: Brain, Behavior, and Immunity
Social bonds are critical for survival and adaptation and periods of bond formation involve reorganization of neurobiological systems as mediated by social behavior. Theoretical accounts and animal studies suggest similarity between parent-infant and pair bonding, a hypothesis not yet directly tested in humans. In this study, we recruited three groups of human adults (N=189); parents who had their firstborn child in the last 4-6months, new lovers who began a romantic relationship within the past 4months, and non-attached singles. We measured plasma oxytocin (OT), beta endorphin (β-End), and interlukin-6 (IL-6), biomarkers of the affiliation, reward, and stress-response systems, and micro-coded gaze and affect synchrony between parents and infants and among new lovers during social interaction. OT significantly increased during periods of parental and romantic bonding and was highest in new lovers. In contrast, IL-6 and β-End were highest in new parents and lowest in singles. Biomarkers became more tightly coupled during periods of bond formation and inter-correlation among hormones was highest during romantic bonding. Structural equation modeling indicated that the effects of IL-6 and β-End on behavioral synchrony were mediated by their impact on OT, highlighting the integrative role of the oxytocinergic system in supporting human social affiliation. Findings suggest that periods of bond formation are accompanied by increased activity, as well as tighter cross-talk among systems underpinning affiliation, reward, and stress management and that research on the multidimensional process of bonding may shed further light on the effects of attachment on health.