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February 2012
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April 2012

Oxytocin Likely the Basis of Animal Friendships

Friendships are adaptive for animals, and they probably feel good, thanks to oxytocin. That's the gist of this article from Science News. I've certainly seen dogs who were best friends, and, of course, with animals in the wild, especially monkeys, those who cooperate in childcare and food-sharing are likely to survive longer and rear more offspring.

The article summarizes several research projects that try to correlate oxytocin to "friendly" behaviors.

With all the research on the effects of oxytocin in humans, this seems like an example of science working its way backwards from people to monkeys. But I am always happy to see science that helps illuminate that animals have emotions like we do.

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/339326/title/Furry_Friends_Forever

 


Sarah Hrdy on the Nature of Mothering

Are human males wired to scatter their seed? Or are we meant for cooperative breeding? Why are kids today so screwed up? Can women mother well while succeeding outside the home? Read an illuminating interview between Eric Michael johnson and Sara Blaffer Hrdy on the SciAM blogg.

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/primate-diaries/2012/03/16/raising-darwins-consciousness-sarah-blaffer-hrdy-on-the-evolutionary-lessons-of-motherhood/


Odent: Pitocin in Childbirth Interferes with Breastfeeding

Natural childbirth advocate Michel Odent will present the results of a first-ever study of the effects of Pitocin on mothering and bonding.

Pitocin is artificial oxytocin usually administered in U.S. hospital births to manage labor -- and speed it along. Critics say that the amount used causes pain and distress to the mother and baby, and that it can cause the emerging baby's hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal system (the HPA axis) to be set at hyperactive levels.

Some think that the widespread use of Pitocin can upset the baby's oxytocin system, contributing to autism spectrum disorder or impaired bonding.

By way of MyBestBirth.com. As My Best Birth notes, it's crazy that while the use of Pitocin in hospitals is close to 95 percent, this study is unique. Thanks to @DoniImes for spotting this story.


Do Dogs Need to Inhale Oxytocin?

When I was a kid, dogs were happy bundles of love. Today, at least in Berkeley, a lot of them are grouchy, neurotic and fearful. Monash University's Animal Welfare Science Centre will study whether inhalilng oxytocin can make shelter dogs more adoptable.

When I researched my book, The Chemistry of Connection, I found strong evidence that the oxytocin response is shaped by early postnatal experience. I don't see why this would not be the case with dogs, as well. If a puppy doesn't get lots of love and attention from its human caretaker after it's separated from its dog mother, it may not learn to bond well with humans.

While some dogs at a shelter have a strong drive to connect with the humans to visit, coming to the bars and wagging their tales, others cower in the back or bark defensively. Not surprisingly, these are the dogs most likely to be put down after a few days.

Researcher Jessica Oliva will start a trial of 80 shelter dogs to see whether having a dog inhale oxytocin as it leaves the shelter with its new owner can increase the likelihood they will bond -- and decrease the likelihood of the dog being returned.

While I advocate that humans take the time to rebuild a healthy oxytocin response naturally, these dogs don't have that much time.

I might advocate that the adopting humans in the study also get a snort of oxytocin.


People, Pets and Oxytocin

NPR had a nice story on therapy animals, pointing out how bonding with an animal feels safer and can improve our ability to bond with people.

If you read my blog regularly or have heard me speak, you know that I think animals are one of the best ways "in" to connection. I first experienced love when I got a puppy.

It can be scary to try to connect with a human being -- and traumatic if the relationship fails. Animals are non-judgmental and easy to give to and receive from.