Testosterone, oxytocin, and the development of human parental care

Ilanit Gordon, Maayan Pratt, Katharina Bergunde, Orna Zagoory-Sharon, Ruth Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The steroid testosterone (T) and neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) have each been implicated in the development of parental care in humans and animals, yet very little research addressed the interaction between these hormones at the transition to parenthood in mothers and fathers. One hundred and sixty mothers and fathers (80 couples) were visited 1 and 6 months after the birth of their first child, plasma OT and T were assayed at each time-point, and interactions between each parent and the infant were observed and micro-coded for two key parental behaviors; affectionate touch and parent-infant synchrony. T showed gender-specific effects. While paternal T was individually stable across the first six months of parenting and predicted lower father-infant synchrony, maternal T was neither stable nor predictive of maternal behavior. An interaction of OT and T showed that T has complex modulatory effects on the relations of OT and parenting. Slope analysis revealed that among fathers, only when T was high (+ 1SD), negative associations emerged between OT and father affectionate touch. In contrast, among mothers, the context of high T was related to a positive association between OT and maternal touch. Our findings, the first to test the interaction of OT and T in relation to observed maternal behavior, underscore the need for much further research on the complex bidirectional effects of steroid and neuropeptide systems on human mothering and fathering.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-192
Number of pages9
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by The United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF ## 2005-273), The Simms-Mann Foundation and The Israel Science Foundation (grant No. 1726/15).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Inc.


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