Parenting through Oxytocin

 

HOST INTRO: Lovers across the city are basking in the afterglow of Valentine’s Day: a day to touch, to kiss, to look deeply into each other’s eyes. All of these actions release a chemical in our brains called oxytocin. Maggie Green explains how this drug can make us better parents.

 

((SciCafe ambient))

 

GREEN 1: At the American Museum of Natural History, pink lights and a stream of love songs set the mood.

 

((music pop: Friday I’m In Love- The Cure))

 

GREEN 2: Bianca Jones Marlin takes the stage. She is a neuroscientist. And she encourages the audience to notice their partner’s touch, the sound of their voice…

 

JONES MARLIN 1:

He whispers over to your ear and says, “I like her shoes.”

 

GREEN 3: And the smell of their perfume. She says those details set the mood.

 

JONES MARLIN 2:

And the mood sets the dynamic between you and the person. ((music and laughter)) 

 

GREEN 4: Just like the old nursery rhyme: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage. And that creates an entirely different mood….

 

JONES MARLIN 3:

And that’s the mood of motherhood. 

 

GREEN 5: Jones Marlin studies how chemicals in our brains can make us better caregivers. The love drug, oxytocin, is released when mothers give birth and when they produce milk for their babies. But Jones Marlin’s research also shows that mice who have never given birth can learn to take care of baby mice, or pups, after a dose of oxytocin.

 

JONES MARLIN 4:

And so oxytocin, paired with hanging out with the mom and pups makes the caregiver excellent. She then can pick up pups when they’re removed from the nest, she can care for them and bring them back. She becomes an excellent babysitter. 

 

GREEN 6: Jones Marlin says her findings mean something more to her. She grew up with foster siblings, and saw her parents love them just as much as they loved her.

 

JONES MARLIN 5:

Survival of our species really is ingrained in us. It’s the way we’re meant to act.

 

GREEN 7: But therapists say giving oxytocin to a human parent won’t necessarily improve their parenting skills. Elizabeth Studwell is a psychologist who focuses on attachment. She says that the behaviors that release oxytocin are just as important as the oxytocin itself. Things like eye contact, physical touch and facial expressions create attachment.

 

STUDWELL 1:

The child feels that parent’s love. And all of the ways conscious and unconscious that those parents, or parent, express that to that child, the child is aware of it and feels it and integrates it and that is what increases the bond over time. 

 

GREEN 8: Jones Marlin knows oxytocin can’t do all the work. Loving someone is still a choice…

 

JONES MARLIN 6:

Whether or not to take care of other people. To care for other people. 

 

((SciCafe ambi))

 

GREEN 9: Jones Marlin’s lecture resonated with Meg Pierson. Her little sister is adopted. And now she knows their relationship is coded in biology.

 

PIERSON 1:

It’s not this pie in the sky happenstance thing but for it to be, you know, kind of preordained and sort of built into you is I think very encouraging. 

 

GREEN 10: But Pierson says science just confirmed what she already knew. She loves her sister.

 

Maggie Green, Columbia Radio News

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