In this chapter we review the evidence for the role of oxytocin in parenting, and discuss some crucial but outstanding questions. This is not meant to be a comprehensive review of all studies on oxytocin and parenting in general. Instead, special attention will be paid to a dimension of parenting that has been largely neglected in behavioral and neurobiological research on parental caregiving, namely protection. Parental protection has received considerable attention in animal research but, despite its evolutionary importance, not in studies on humans. It is argued that oxytocin may have specific significance for the protective dimension of parenting. The effects of exogenous oxytocin may be dependent not only on contextual factors, but also on personal characteristics, most notably gender, on endogenous levels of oxytocin, and on early childhood experiences. Examining the contextual, personal, hormonal, neural, genetic, and behavioral mechanisms of protective parenting in tandem is essential for the development of a comprehensive theory of protective parenting, and for the identification of “biomarkers” for insensitive and unprotective parenting that should be taken into account in preventive parenting interventions.

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Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences
Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Bakermans-Kranenburg, M., & van IJzendoorn, R. (2017). Oxytocin and human sensitive and protective parenting. In Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences. doi:10.1007/7854_2017_23