Oxytocin decreases handgrip force in reaction to infant crying in females without harsh parenting experiences

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Infant crying can elicit sensitive caregiving as well as hostility and harsh parenting responses. In the current study (N = 42 females) with a double-blind experimental design, we tested the effect of intranasal oxytocin administration on the use of excessive force using a hand-grip dynamometer during listening to infant cry sounds. Participants’ experiences with harsh parental discipline during childhood were found to moderate the effect of oxytocin administration on the use of excessive force. Participants’ whose parents did not discipline them harshly used less excessive force in the oxytocin condition, but for participants who were disciplined harshly there was no difference between the oxytocin and placebo condition. Such effects were not found during listening to infant laughter. We conclude that early caregiving experiences constitute an important moderator of the prosocial and/or stress-reducing effects of oxytocin. Oxytocin administration may increase trust and cooperation in individuals with supportive backgrounds, but not generate this effect in individuals who as a consequence of unfavorable early caregiving experiences may have a bias toward negative interpretation of social cues.

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