THE EFFECT OF OXYTOCIN ON TRUST BETWEEN MOTHERS AND ADOLESCENTS AND THE MODERATING ROLE OF ATTACHMENT SECURITY
Venta, Amanda C
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Existing research with animals and human adults suggests that oxytocin is a promising therapeutic tool because it increases trust and attachment in social relationships—key factors in a range of psychiatric disorders. Oxytocin has been recommended as a treatment for adolescents, a population in which treatment providers are wary of other pharmacological options. However, this suggestion remains largely unstudied, with only one previous study administering oxytocin to adolescents with psychopathology. Against this background, the objectives of this study were to (a) examine the effect of intranasal oxytocin administration on trust behavior towards mothers in a game designed to assess in vivo, quantifiable social behavior, determining how this effect differs among inpatient and community control adolescents and (b) explore baseline attachment security as a moderator to determine whether the effect differs depending upon the existing social relationship. A secondary aim was to explore how internalizing and externalizing symptoms relate to the effect of oxytocin on trust. The central hypothesis was that oxytocin would increase trust behavior in the whole sample, and demonstrate clinical potential by raising the level of maternal trust in the inpatient sample nearer to the trust behavior of community adolescents. Within each group, oxytocin was expected to increase trust behavior to a greater degree among adolescents with a secure attachment style. N = 45 inpatient adolescents and N = 35 community controls participated in a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled design in which they self-administered intranasal oxytocin or a placebo and played a trust game with their mother and a stranger over the internet. Findings suggested that oxytocin was associated with increased trust game investments for inpatient adolescents across both stranger and mother games, such that their investments surpassed the investments of community controls. No evidence of a moderating role of attachment was noted. No associations between continuously rated internalizing symptoms, externalizing symptoms, and oxytocin effects were noted. This study takes a first step towards determining whether, and for whom, oxytocin may have clinical value, within the context of the critical variables of attachment and psychopathology in adolescents.