Oxytocin and social affiliation in humans

Ruth Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

505 Scopus citations


A conceptual model detailing the process of . bio-behavioral synchrony between the online physiological and behavioral responses of attachment partners during social contact is presented as a theoretical and empirical framework for the study of affiliative bonds. Guided by an ethological behavior-based approach, we suggest that micro-level social behaviors in the gaze, vocal, affective, and touch modalities are dynamically integrated with online physiological processes and hormonal response to create dyad-specific affiliations. Studies across multiple attachments throughout life are presented and demonstrate that the extended oxytocin (OT) system provides the neurohormonal substrate for parental, romantic, and filial attachment in humans; that the three prototypes of affiliation are expressed in similar constellations of social behavior; and that OT is stable over time within individuals, is mutually-influencing among partners, and that mechanisms of cross-generation and inter-couple transmission relate to coordinated social behavior. Research showing links between peripheral and genetic markers of OT with concurrent parenting and memories of parental care; between administration of OT to parent and infant's physiological readiness for social engagement; and between neuropeptides and the online synchrony of maternal and paternal brain response in social-cognitive and empathy networks support the hypothesis that human attachment develops within the matrix of biological attunement and close behavioral synchrony. The findings have conceptual implications for the study of inter-subjectivity as well as translational implications for the treatment of social disorders originating in early childhood, such as autism spectrum disorders, or those associated with disruptions to early bonding, such as postpartum depression or child abuse and neglect. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Social Behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-391
Number of pages12
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research at Prof. Feldman's lab is supported by the Israel Science Foundation (# 1318/08 ), the US-Israel bi-national Science Foundation ( 2005-273 ), the NARSAD Foundation , the German-Israel Science Foundation (GIF) , the Irving B. Harris Foundation , the Kor Family Foundation , and the Katz Family Foundation .


  • Affiliation
  • Bond formation
  • Evolutionary models
  • Fathering
  • Friendships
  • Mothering
  • Oxytocin
  • Romantic attachment
  • Social behavior


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