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Oxytocin (OT) plays a crucial role in parental-infant bonding and attachment. Recent functional imaging studies reveal specific attachment and reward related brain regions in individuals or within the parent-child dyad. However, the time course and functional stage of modulatory effects of OT on attachment-related processing, especially in fathers, are poorly understood. To elucidate the functional and neural mechanisms underlying the role of OT in paternal-child attachment, we performed an event-related potential study in 24 healthy fathers who received intranasal OT in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject experimental design. Participants passively viewed pictures of their own child (oC), a familiar (fC) and an unfamiliar child (ufC) while event-related potentials were recorded. Familiarity of the child’s face modulated a broad negativity at occipital and temporo-parietal electrodes within a time window of 300–400 ms, presumably reflecting a modulation of the N250 and N300 ERP components. The oC condition elicited a more negative potential compared to the other familiarity conditions suggesting different activation of perceptual memory representations and assignment of emotional valence. Most importantly, this familiarity effect was only observed under placebo (PL) and was abolished under OT, in particular at left temporo-parietal electrodes. This OT induced attenuation of ERP responses was related to habitual attachment representations in fathers. In summary, our results demonstrate an OT-specific effect at later stages of attachment-related face processing presumably reflecting both activation of perceptual memory representations and assignment of emotional value.

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Journal Article

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