Stress responses in humans can be attenuated by exogenous oxytocin administration, and these stress-buffering properties may be moderated by social factors. Yet, the influence of acute stressors on circulating endogenous oxytocin levels have been inconsistent, and limited information is available concerning the influence of social support in moderating this relationship. In the current investigation, undergraduate women (N = 67) were assessed in the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) with either social support available from a close female friend or no social support being available. An additional set of women served as controls. The TSST elicited marked elevations of state anxiety and negative emotions, which were largely attenuated among women who received social support. Furthermore, baseline oxytocin levels were inversely related to women's general feelings of distrust, as well as basal plasma cortisol levels. Despite these associations, oxytocin levels were unaffected by the TSST, and this was the case irrespective of oral contraceptive use or estrogen levels. In contrast, plasma cortisol elevations were elicited by the psychosocial stressor, but only in women using oral contraceptives, an effect that was prevented when social support was available. Taken together, these data provisionally suggest that changes in plasma oxytocin might not accompany the stress attenuating effects of social support on cortisol levels. Moreover, as plasma oxytocin might not reliably reflect brain oxytocin levels, the linkage between oxytocin and prosocial behaviors remains tenuous.

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Neurobiology of Stress
Department of Neuroscience

McQuaid, R.J. (Robyn J.), McInnis, O.A. (Opal A.), Paric, A. (Angela), Al-Yawer, F. (Faisal), Matheson, K, & Anisman, H. (2016). Relations between plasma oxytocin and cortisol: The stress buffering role of social support. Neurobiology of Stress, 3, 52–60. doi:10.1016/j.ynstr.2016.01.001