By fostering attachment, oxytocin is considered critical to survival of an individual, and also to survival of the species.
"It's what allows the infant to survive to maturity and to reproduce by ensuring the caregiver stays close to the infant and provides nurturance and support to an otherwise defenseless infant," explained Bartz, assistant professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
Those initial experiences with an early caregiver -- usually a mother -- stay with us and guide our later relationships, for better or for worse.
The researchers hypothesized that oxytocin would amplify whatever initial memories men had about their mothers, and this turned out to be accurate.
Thirty-one men, aged 19 to 45, were asked about the care they had received from their mothers during childhood, based on their own recollections
The men also made two visits to the clinic, about a month apart, once to receive oxytocin and once to receive a placebo. In effect, each man acted as his own control group.
Men who had initially described their mothers as warm and nurturing tended to think even more highly of them after receiving the oxytocin.
But men who hadn't reported such positive connections actually downgraded their assessment of the maternal relationship after taking oxytocin.
"We found that participants who were more securely attached, when they got oxytocin, they remembered mom as more close," Bartz said. "For those who were more anxiously attached, it amplified it in the other direction. It brought to mind their chronic insecurities about their relationship with their mother.
"This supports this idea that oxytocin may actually play a role in the formation of these memories," she added.
"It's not just a 'happy' drug," said Paul Sanberg, distinguished professor of neurosurgery and director of the University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair in Tampa. "Bec
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