Maternal Depression and Mother-Child Oxytocin Synchrony in Youth with Anxiety Disorders

Reuma Gadassi Polack, Jutta Joormann, Meital Orbach, Wendy K. Silverman, Eli R. Lebowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) plays a central role in the regulation of affiliative bonds and anxiety. However, the degree to which its levels are synchronized between interaction partners has not yet been assessed. Physiological synchrony assessed using other peripheral measures (e.g., heart rate, etc.) has been tied to positive outcomes for the individual and the dyad. The present study examined OT synchrony in the context of child anxiety and maternal depression by examining mother-child dyads. Mothers and their children with anxiety disorders participated in a behavioral interaction task. Changes in OT levels and mother-child OT synchrony before and after the interaction, as well as their moderation by maternal depression, were assessed. Ninety-eight youth with anxiety disorders (ages 10 to 17) and their mothers underwent psychiatric evaluation, and mothers rated their own depressive symptoms and their children’s behavior problems. Salivary OT was assayed from mother and child before and after the task. Behavioral coding showed that interactions were characterized by high behavioral synchrony between mothers and their children, and both individuals displayed higher levels of positive vs. negative affect during the interactions. Mothers and their children also showed decreases in OT levels after the interaction. As hypothesized, OT synchrony increased following the task, but only dyads in which mothers showed high levels of depressive symptoms showed this increase. As hypothesized, lower levels of OT-synchrony were associated with higher levels of child internalizing symptoms. The findings suggest that positive interactions may be beneficial for youth with anxiety disorders with mothers with depression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-392
Number of pages12
JournalResearch on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC part of Springer Nature.


  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety/anxiety disorders
  • Child
  • Maternal depression
  • Oxytocin
  • Synchrony


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