Indexed on: 28 Jan '12Published on: 28 Jan '12Published in: Psychoneuroendocrinology
Romantic relationships can have a profound effect on adults' health and well-being whereas the inability to maintain intimate bonds has been associated with physical and emotional distress. Studies in monogamous mammalian species underscore the central role of oxytocin (OT) in pair-bonding and human imaging studies implicate OT-rich brain areas in early romantic love. To assess the role of OT in romantic attachment, we examined plasma OT in 163 young adults: 120 new lovers (60 couples) three months after the initiation of their romantic relationship and 43 non-attached singles. Twenty-five of the 36 couples who stayed together were seen again six months later. Couples were observed in dyadic interactions and were each interviewed regarding relationship-related thoughts and behaviors. OT was significantly higher in new lovers compared to singles, F(1,152)=109.33, p<.001, which may suggest increased activity of the oxytocinergic system during the early stages of romantic attachment. These high levels of OT among new lovers did not decrease six months later and showed high individual stability. OT correlated with the couples' interactive reciprocity, including social focus, positive affect, affectionate touch, and synchronized dyadic states, and with anxieties and worries regarding the partner and the relationship, findings which parallel those described for parent-infant bonding. OT levels at the first assessment differentiated couples who stayed together six months later from those who separated during this period. Regression analysis showed that OT predicted interactive reciprocity independent of sex, relationship duration, and the partner's OT. Findings suggest that OT may play an important role at the first stages of romantic attachment and lend support to evolutionary models suggesting that parental and romantic attachment share underlying bio-behavioral mechanisms.