The role of oxytocin has been a subject of much debate and research, with conflicting results being reported in studies. But a recent study conducted by the William James Center for Research and Washington State University aims to shed some light on this topic. The study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, focused on understanding the presence of oxytocin and its production in preschool-aged children and its association with behavioural problems.
The study collected saliva samples from 30 preschool children (17 girls and 13 boys) over five days in different situations, such as daily routine and before and after dyadic play sessions with their parents. The children’s behavioural problems were assessed by the Caregiver-Teacher Report Form questionnaire, which was completed by the child’s preschool teacher.
The results of the study suggest that children who have higher levels of oxytocin circulating in their bodies are likely to have better adaptation and greater harmony in their preschool environment. This was seen, for example, after playing with their parents for 15 minutes, when the children had higher levels of oxytocin in their bodies.
While the findings of the study are not conclusive, it does shed some light on the potential benefits of oxytocin in improving children’s behaviour and well-being. Nuno Torres, a researcher supported by the BIAL Foundation, who was involved in the study, believes that this work “may enable the design of better educational practices, which stimulate global health”. In the near future, the researchers are also considering assessing the levels of oxytocin in parents to better understand the process of psychological, biological, and social interaction between them and their children.
The study offers a promising glimpse into the role of oxytocin in improving children’s well-being and behaviour. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits of oxytocin as a therapeutic substance for issues such as autism, anxiety, aggression, or hyperactivity.
Meanwhile, a 2016 recent systematic review of the differences between psychiatric patients and healthy controls found that only serum oxytocin (OXT) in anorexia nervosa showed significant differences. The review aimed to assess the peripheral fluids in a broad range of mental disorders. The authors of the study suggest that the lack of significant results in psychiatric populations is likely due to the high methodological heterogeneity and scarce reliability of the methods used. They emphasise the need for better validation and standardisation of these methods to accurately determine the role of OXT in mental health. This new finding sheds light on the importance of further research in the field to better understand the connection between OXT and mental disorders.