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Oxytocin Research

7 years 10 months ago #21 by jenny
Oxytocin Research was created by jenny
People ask us all the time for references to support the role of oxytocin in the reduction of stress for children with autism. Please refer to the article below for further information:

Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that is produced in the hypothalamus and has been shown to play an important role in the social behavior of humans and non-human mammals. In fact the chemical structure of oxytocin is the same in all mammals and it has been demonstrated to stimulate social trust and socio-positive interactions in different species (Odendaal, 2000). Oxytocin is released into the circulatory system and the brain in response to sensory stimulation via a network of OT-containing nerves (Ross et al., 2009), e.g., during breastfeeding, labor, sex, but also touch, warmth, stroking and rocking (for reviews see Uvnäs-Moberg, 2003; Insel, 2010). As well as having a positive effect on social behavior oxytocin has also been found to decrease anxiety and stress levels (Jonas et al. 2008; Handlin et al. 2011).

Many studies done in the past 15 years have tried to study the relationship between autism and oxytocin. In 1998, Modahl et al, found significantly lower levels of oxytocin in blood plasma of autistic children. Five years later, in 2003, Hollander and associates found a decrease in autism spectrum repetitive behaviors when oxytocin was administered intravenously. Further in 2007, in another study Hollander et al. reported that oxytocin helped autistic adults retain the ability to evaluate the emotional significance of speech intonation.

Numerous studies have also shown that, as well as promoting social behaviors, oxytocin can also help decrease stress by acting on the amygdala and inhibiting cortisol production (Neumann, 2000). In humans, intranasal administration of oxytocin is associated with a similar effect spectrum i.e. social interaction and competence is increased and anxiety and stress levels (cortisol) are decreased (Heinrichs et al. 2003; Jonas et al. 2008) and trust in others is enhanced (Kosfeld et al. 2005).

Studies show that positive interactions between humans and non-human mammals (such as dogs, cats or horses) can lead to an increase in oxytocin and a corresponding decrease in cortisol (Odendaal, 2000; Barker et al, 2005). This has been found to be particularly true in children with autism whose cortisol levels upon waking up were found to reduce from 58% to 10% when a dog was present in the family (Viau et al, 2010).


Barker, S. B., Knisely, J. S., McCain, N. L., & Best, A. M. (2005). Measuring stress and immune responses in health care professionals following interaction with a therapy dog: a pilot study. Psychological Reports, 96, 713–729.

Handlin, L., Hydbring-Sandberg, E., Nilsson, A., Ejdebäck, M., Jansson, A., & Uvnäs-Moberg, K. (2011). Short-term interaction between dogs and their owners – effects on oxytocin, cortisol, insulin and heart rate – an exploratory study. Anthrozoos, 24, 301–316.

Heinrichs, M., Baumgartner, T., Kirschbaum, C., & Ehlert, U. (2003). Social support and oxytocin interact to suppress cortisol and subjective responses to psychosocial stress. Biological Psychiatry, 54, 1389–1398.

Hollander, E., Novotny, S., Hanratty, M., Yaffe, R., DeCaria, C.M., & Aronowitz, B.R. (2003) Oxytocin infusion reduces repetitive behaviors in adults with autistic and Asperger's disorders. Neuropsychopharmacology, 28, 193–8.

Hollander, E., Bartz, J., Chaplin, W., Phillips, A., Sumner, J., & Soorya, L. (2007) Oxytocin increases retention of social cognition in autism. Biological Psychiatry, 61,498–503.

Insel T. R. (2010). The challenge of translation in social neuroscience: a review of oxytocin, vasopressin, and affiliative behavior. Neuron, 65, 768–779.

Jonas, W., Nissen, E., Ransjo-Arvidson, A.B., Matthiesen, A.S., & Uvnas-Moberg, K. (2008) Influence of oxytocin or epidural analgesia on personality profile in breastfeeding women: a comparative study. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 11, 335-345.

Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P. J., Fischbacher, U., & Fehr E. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435, 673–676.

Modahl, C., Green, L., Fein, D., Morris, M., Waterhouse, L., & Feinstein, C. (1998) Plasma oxytocin levels in autistic children. Biological Psychiatry, 43, 270–7.

Neumann, I. D., Wigger, A., Torner, L., Holsboer, F., Landgraf, R. (2000). Brain oxytocin inhibits basal and stress-induced activity of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis in male and female rats: partial action within the paraventricular nucleus. Journal of Neuroendocrinology. 12, 235–243.

Odendaal, J. S. J. (2000). Assisted-animal therapy: Magic or medicine? Journal of
Psychodynamic Research, 49, 275 -280.

Ross, H. E., Cole, C. D., Smith, Y., Neumann, I. D., Landgraf, R., Murphy, A. Z., & Young, L. J. (2009). Characterization of the oxytocin system regulating affiliative behavior in female prairie voles. Neuroscience, 162, 892–903.

Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Handlin, L., & Petersson, M. (2011). “Promises and pitfalls of hormone research in human-animal interaction,” in How Animals Affect Us (eds: McCardle, P., McCune, S., Griffin, J. A., & Maholmes V.), Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 53–81.

Viau, R., Arsenault-Lapierre, G., Fecteau, S., Champagne, N., Walker, C.-D., & Lupien, S. (2010). Effect of service dogs on salivary cortisol secretion in autistic children. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35 (8), 1187.

~ Jenny

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