Oxytocin indexes relational distress following interpersonal harms in women

Benjamin A. Tabak, Michael E. McCullough, Angela Szeto, Armando J. Mendez, Philip M. McCabe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


The hypothalamic neuropeptide oxytocin, known for its involvement in social affiliation and bonding in animals, has recently been associated with a host of prosocial behaviors that are beneficial for maintaining positive social relationships in humans. Paradoxically, however, people with high endogenous levels of oxytocin also tend to report relational distress and interpersonal difficulties in their everyday lives. To address these contradictory findings, oxytocin reactivity was measured in response to a well-defined laboratory task in young adult women following recent interpersonal harms. Elevated mean peripheral oxytocin reactivity (but not baseline levels of oxytocin or cortisol reactivity) was associated with increased post-conflict anxiety and decreased levels of forgiveness. These results corroborate previous research implicating oxytocin as a neuroendocrine marker of relational distress, but not general stress, and demonstrate the utility of studying oxytocin in response to naturally occurring relational events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-122
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Anxiety
  • Cortisol
  • Forgiveness
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Oxytocin
  • Relational distress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems


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