Stress-Induced Elevation of Oxytocin in Maltreated Children: Evolution, Neurodevelopment, and Social Behavior


  • We wish to thank the children and their families who participated in this research and acknowledge the assistance of Barbara Roeber for assistance with participant recruitment. This research was supported by a grant to Seth Pollak from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH61285), including a supplementary award issued under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Oxytocin analyses made use of facilities supported by Grants RR000167 from the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and 1UL1RR025011 from the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program of the National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health.


Child maltreatment often has a negative impact on the development of social behavior and health. The biobehavioral mechanisms through which these adverse outcomes emerge, however, are not clear. To better understand the ways in which early life adversity affects subsequent social behavior, changes in the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) in children (= 73) aged 8.1–11.5 years following a laboratory stressor were examined. Girls with histories of physical abuse have higher levels of urinary OT and lower levels of salivary cortisol following the stressor when compared to controls. Abused and control boys, however, do not differ in their hormonal responses. These data suggest that early adversity may disrupt the development of the stress regulation system in girls by middle childhood.