Wittfoth-Schardt, D., Gründing, J., Wittfoth, M., Lanfermann, H., Heinrichs, M., Domes, G., Buchheim, A., Gündel, H. & Waller, C. (2012). Oxytocin modulates neural reactivity to children's faces as a function of social salience. Neuropsychopharmacology,37(8), 1799-1807. United Kingdom: Nature Publishing Group. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2012.47
Oxytocin (OT) enhances social behaviors such as attachment and parental caretaking. Neural correlates of maternal attachment are found in reward-related brain regions, for example, in the globus pallidus (GP). The present work investigates the effects of OT on the neural correlates of parental attachment. Fathers viewed pictures of their own child (oC), a familiar child (fC), and an unfamiliar child (uC) after intranasal application of OT vs placebo. OT reduced activation and functional connectivity of the left GP with reward- and attachment-related regions responsive to pictures of the oC and the uC. The present results emphasize the key role of OT in human parental attachment and suggest that OT reduces neural reactivity to social cues as a function of social salience. Our results together with previous findings speak to a selective reduction of neural reactivity to social stimuli, irrespective of their valence. We argue that one major pathway by which OT exerts its positive effects on affiliative and social behaviors is the attenuation of automatic neural responses, which in turn leads to increased approach behaviors and decreased social avoidance.