The cross-generation transmission of oxytocin in humans

Ruth Feldman, Ilanit Gordon, Orna Zagoory-Sharon

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203 Scopus citations


Animal studies demonstrated that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT), implicated in bond formation across mammalian species, is transmitted from mother to young through mechanisms of early social experiences; however, no research has addressed the cross-generation transmission of OT in humans. Fifty-five parents (36 mothers and 19 fathers) engaged in a 15-min interaction with their infants. Baseline plasma OT was sampled from parents and salivary OT was sampled from parents and infants before and after play and analyzed with ELISA methods. Interactions were micro-coded for parent and child's socio-affective behavior. Parent and infant's salivary OT was individually stable across assessments and showed an increase from pre- to post-interaction. Significant correlations emerged between parental and infant OT at both assessments and higher OT levels in parent and child were related to greater affect synchrony and infant social engagement. Parent-infant affect synchrony moderated the relations between parental and infant OT and the associations between OT in parent and child were stronger under conditions of high affect synchrony. Results demonstrate consistency in the neuroendocrine system supporting bond formation in humans and other mammals and underscore the role of early experience in shaping the cross-generation transmission of social affiliation in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-676
Number of pages8
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research at Dr. Feldman's lab during the study period was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (# 1318/08 ), the US-Israel Bi-National Science Foundation ( 2005-273 ), the NARSAD Foundation (Independent Investigator Award, 2008), and the Harris Foundation.


  • Oxytocin
  • Parent-infant relationship
  • Parenting
  • Social engagement
  • Synchrony


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