Physical touch during father-infant interactions is associated with paternal oxytocin levels

Alyssa R. Morris, Alexandra Turner, Chase H. Gilbertson, Geoffrey Corner, Armando J. Mendez, Darby E. Saxbe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction: Physical connection, particularly parent-to-infant touch, is critical for the well-being of infants and may support the development of the parent-infant bond. Physical touch has also been found to stimulate oxytocin levels. This study tested whether fathers' micro-coded touch behaviors during parent-child interaction predicted their subsequent oxytocin levels. We also compared two widely-used methods of oxytocin immunoassay that have been found to yield discrepant results in past studies. Methods: Among 45 fathers and their six-month-old infants, we micro-coded paternal physical touch at 1/10 s intervals during a laboratory-based free-play interaction. Paternal oxytocin was measured via blood plasma and was processed both with and without the extraction step prior to immunoassay so that results from the two methods could be compared. Results: Unextracted and extracted oxytocin were moderately correlated within our sample. Fathers who engaged in more playful proprioceptive touch showed higher levels of both unextracted and extracted oxytocin. Gentle affectionate touch and functional proprioceptive touch predicted higher unextracted but not extracted oxytocin levels. Fathers who did not engage in physical touch showed lower levels of both unextracted and extracted oxytocin. Conclusion: Results are consistent with previous work showing that physical touch, particularly playful proprioceptive touch, is associated with higher oxytocin levels in fathers. These results replicate previous research using unextracted oxytocin measurement, and extend this work, showing that many but not all associations hold when using the more rigorous method of extraction when measuring oxytocin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101613
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Fathers
  • Oxytocin
  • Physical contact
  • Postpartum
  • Touch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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