Sue Carter talked about Oxytocin, a neuropeptide hormone best known for its role in birth and breastfeeding. Oxytocin is a brain tool for building trust and social bonds, such as between parents and infants. Perhaps a million years ago our ancestors learned how to use this mammalian mechanism to promote social bonding beyond sexual union, in order to form groups and tribes. Oxytocin, and the related hormone, vasopressin, regulate social monogamy, including pair bonding and parental care, central to experiences of “love”.
Studies of the neurobiology of love have provided a deeper understanding of both mental health and mental illness. Infants suffering from childhood neglect suffer from reduced oxytocin and vasopressin levels into adulthood. There, the absence of love leaves a biological scar, which is then passed down inter-generationally.
(a) This presentation will define concepts such as “social monogamy” and “love” from a scientific perspective.
(b) The endocrine causes and consequences of social bonds and related social behaviors will be examined using evidence from humans and other monogamous mammals.
(c) The mental health implications of sexually-dimorphic hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin will be discussed, using autism as an example.
This talk was given at the conference “Brain Development and Learning 2010 Meeting” in Vancouver. It was an interdisciplinary conference devoted to improving children’s lives by making cutting-edge research in neuroscience, child psychology, & medicine. Further information available on http://www.interprofessional.ubc.ca/bdl.html