Oxytocin and attachment development: Looking beyond the expected?
Children's secure attachment or trust in the support of their most important caregivers is related to many positive developmental outcomes like better social and academic skills, and better mental and physical health. Surprisingly, the mechanisms explaining how trust develops remain largely unknown. Increasingly, researchers have pointed at the role of hormones like oxytocin to explain trust development. Oxytocin has been described as stimulating social learning by activating a state of comfort and trust after receiving care during distress. As a result, researchers got interested in administering oxytocin to treat social impairments in individuals with a rather adverse social learning history. However, findings of our and international research suggest that the actual role of oxytocin might be misunderstood. More specifically, individuals with rather adverse social learning histories benefit less to not from oxytocin administration. In the current project, we want to test an alternative hypothesis, i.e. that oxytocin decreases individuals' susceptibility to perceive information that is inconsistent with developed social expectations. We will investigate whether this is the explanation of the inconsistent findings in contemporary oxytocin research. This would fundamentally alter the theory on oxytocin and how it influences trust development. Also, it would contribute to the debate about using oxytocin as treatment.