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Early Neglect Lowers Oxytocin Response

Psychologists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison published a study today showing that early neglect or lack of nurturing weakens kids' oxytocin response, as well as the levels of vasopressin, the related peptide that seems to influence male bonding and fathering, as well as social memory. According to the University,

"The new finding demonstrates for the first time that severe neglect and social isolation can directly affect a young child's neurobiology in ways that potentially influence emotional behaviors. "

I thought that brain scanning studies already had shown this. At any rate, researchers led by Alison Wismer Fries and Toni Ziegler tested the urine of 18 four-year-old adopted kids for base levels of oxytocin and vasopressin. They noticed that these kids had lower than normal levels of vasopressin. These children had lived in Roumanian or Russian orphanages before being adopted.

Next, the kids sat on the laps of either their mothers or an unfamiliar woman for a half hour, playing a game that involved sweetly intimate activities such as whispering, tickling and patting.

While such cuddling resulted in a rise in oxytocin levels in children who had been reared by biological parents, the kids who had been deprived of early nurturing showed no increase in oxytocin.

The study shows how the oxytocin response can be stunted.

Speaking of adopted children, the study's lead author, Seth Pollack, told  Newsday,

""Many parents describe these kids as overly anxious," Pollak said. "One of the explanations may be that the comfort system isn't kicking in."

Newsday writer Jamie Talan says, a bit naively,

"The finding, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that early experience can leave a biochemical mark and that, in turn, can shape lifetime experience."

I think it's a lot closer to fact than to suggestion.

Ecstasy Depletes Oxytocin -- for Good, Maybe

The Herald Sun reports that, while Ecstasy may lead to feelings of ecstatic union with others in the short term, over time it can lead to social withdrawal.

But Dr [Iain] McGregor, [of the University of Sydney] said long-term studies of rats given ecstasy found they eventually became anti-social, depressed, anxious and stressed.

"They didn't interact with new rats that they met in the way that a normal rat that's never had ecstasy would," he said.

The anti-social effects occurred even after relatively brief exposure to ecstasy.

Ecstasy releases oxytocin, so McGregor will next look specifically at that interaction.

Evidently, the ability to produce  many neuropeptides can be weakened over time by overactivity, in the same way that the pancreas may lose its ability to produce insulin,  leading to Type 2 diabetes.