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Turnbull, O. (2006). Research Digest. Neuropsychoanalysis, 8(1):105-106.

(2006). Neuropsychoanalysis, 8(1):105-106

Research Digest

Oliver Turnbull

Oxytocin, Attachment, and Meditation

Wismer-Fries, A. B., Ziegler, T. E., Kurian, J. R., Jacoris, S., & Pollak, S. D. (2005). Early experience in humans associated with changes in neuropeptides critical for regulating social behaviour. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., 102: 17237-17240.

Psychoanalysis has had a long-standing interest in the effects of early childhood environmental deprivation. This study is one of a newer wave of findings that demonstrate the biological correlates of these well-known, but incompletely understood, effects. The study compared children who had spent their first 18 months of life in a Russian or Romanian orphanage, where they experienced limited human contact, but had then been adopted by American families, with a control group consisting of children who had lived in American families (in “typical” family environments). The study measured levels of the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin—well known for their role in a range of attachment, social bonding, and related states. The hormones were measured at baseline; when playing with mother; and when playing with a stranger. The adoptees showed lower baseline levels of the hormones. Whereas oxytocin levels rose in the control children when playing with their (adopted) mother, the adoptees showed far lower increases. In sum, the early deprivation appeared to have a sustained effect, measured physiologically, on the adopted children. Notably, however, not all the adoptees showed these differences, consistent with the observation that some children from challenging backgrounds can develop apparently normal social bonds and interpersonal relationships.

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