Oxytocin and Social Norms Reduce Xenophobia

Oxytocin and Social Norms Reduce Xenophobia

Summary: Researchers report social norms together with increasing oxytocin can counter xenophobia by enhancing altruistic behaviors.

Source: University of Bonn.

Researchers from the University Hospital Bonn increased altruistic behavior, even in those with a fear of foreigners.

We tend to be more altruistic to our own family and friends than to perfect strangers. The recent migration of Middle Eastern refugees into European societies has further magnified the issue, with a large divide in society between people who do and do not support the refugees. “This is partly due to evolution: Only through solidarity and cooperation within one’s own group was it possible to raise children and survive when competing against unknown and rivaling groups for scarce resources in pre-civilized times,” explains Prof. Rene Hurlemann from the Department of Psychiatry, University of Bonn Medical Center. However, this is diametrically opposed to the parable of the Good Samaritan, which serves as an example of selfless altruism by describing a Samaritan who incurs personal costs to help a stranger in need. “From a neurobiological perspective, the basis of xenophobia and altruism is not yet precisely understood,” says Hurlemann.

Under the psychiatrist’s supervision, a team of researchers at the University of Bonn, the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa (USA), and the University of Lübeck conducted three experiments in which they tested a total of 183 subjects, who were all German natives. In the Laboratory for Experimental Economics (BonnEconLab) at the University of Bonn, they completed a donation task on a computer. The donation task included 50 authentic case vignettes describing the personal needs of poor people, 25 of which were portrayed as local people in need, while the other 25 people were portrayed as refugees.

With an endowment of 50 euros, the participants could decide for each individual case whether they wanted to donate a sum between zero and one euro. The test subjects were allowed to keep any money that was not donated. “We were surprised that the participants in the first experiment donated around 20 percent more to refugees than to local people in need,” says Nina Marsh from Prof. Hurlemann’s team.

Questionnaire on attitude towards migrants

In another independent experiment involving over 100 participants, the subjects’ personal attitudes towards refugees were assessed in a questionnaire. Then half of the group received the bonding hormone oxytocin via a nasal spray, while the other half of the group received a placebo before they were exposed to the donation task established in the first experiment: again the participants decided how much of their 50 euros they wanted to donate to locals or refugees.

Image shows a stick and ball model of oxytocin.

Under the influence of oxytocin, the individuals who tended to show a positive attitude towards refugees doubled their donations to both the locals and the refugees. However, oxytocin had no effect in individuals who expressed a rather defensive attitude towards migrants: In those participants, the tendency to donate was very low to locals and refugees alike. “Oxytocin clearly increases generosity towards those in need, however, if this altruistic fundamental attitude is missing, the hormone alone cannot create it,” says Hurlemann.

Oxytocin in combination with social norms decreases xenophobia

How can people who tend to have a xenophobic attitude be motivated to be more altruistic? The researchers assumed that the addition of social norms could be a starting point. In a third experiment, they thus presented the participants with the average donation their peers made in the first experiment under each case vignette. Half of the participants once again received oxytocin. The result was astounding. “Now, even people with negative attitudes towards migrants donated up to 74 percent more to refugees than in the previous round,” reports Nina Marsh. Through the combined administration of oxytocin with a social norm, the donations for refugees in those skeptical towards migrants nearly reached half of the sums donated by the group, which showed a positive attitude towards refugees.

What conclusions can be drawn from these results? It appears that pairing oxytocin with a social norm can help counter the effects of xenophobia by enhancing altruistic behavior toward refugees. “The combined enhancement of oxytocin and peer influence could diminish selfish motives,” says Hurlemann. If people whom we trust, such as supervisors, neighbors or friends, act as a role model by making public their positive attitude towards refugees, more people would probably feel motivated to help. In such a prosocial context, oxytocin could increase trust and minimize anxiety – experience shows that the oxytocin level in the blood increases during social interaction and shared activities. “Given the right circumstances, oxytocin may help promote the acceptance and integration of migrants into Western cultures,” says Hurlemann.


Source: René Hurlemann – University of Bonn
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: The study will appear in PNAS.

University of Bonn “Oxytocin and Social Norms Reduce Xenophobia.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 14 August 2017.

Substance Addiction Changes Mother’s Response to Infant

Substance Addiction Changes Mother’s Response to Infant

Summary: Substance addiction modifies they way a mother’s brain responds to her own child, a new study reports. Researchers found key reward regions of the brain appear to shut down in response to their own infant’s smiles in mothers with addictions.

Source: Baylor College of Medicine.

Maternal addiction and its effects on children is a major public health problem, often leading to high rates of child abuse, neglect and foster care placement. In a study published today in the journal Human Brain Mapping, researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Iowa found that a mother’s brain response to her own infant is modified in the presence of substance addiction.

“Unlike many mothers who find engaging with their infants to be a uniquely rewarding and gratifying experience, mothers with addictions, even when they are not actively using substances, may be less able to respond appropriately to their infants’ cues, finding them less intrinsically rewarding and more stress-provoking,” said Dr. Sohye Kim, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor and lead author of the study.

In this study, 36 mothers were recruited from an inpatient treatment facility for substance use disorders, and their infants were videotaped five months after delivery. Mothers underwent functional MRI (fMRI) scanning six months after delivery, while viewing happy and sad face images of their own infant.

Typically, seeing the smiling faces of their own infant is rewarding to mothers. This reward experience is what underlies and promotes the mother-infant attachment, which essentially motivates the mother to continue to care for the infant even when being a mother is extremely exhausting, Kim said.

Previous studies have shown that mothers without addictions illustrate strong activations in the dopamine-associated brain reward regions when seeing their infants’ happy faces. However, researchers discovered that mothers with addictions showed a striking pattern of decreased activation in these same brain regions when viewing happy face images of their own infant.

“Our results are particularly noteworthy in two respects: first, they were specific to cues from the mothers’ own infants and not unknown infants; and second, they were in response to what could arguably be considered the most rewarding cues from infants – their smiling faces. This is powerful because the smiling cue is probably the most rewarding cue one can get from one’s own infant, yet the key reward regions appear to be shut down in response to these cues in mothers with addictions,” Kim said.

The findings of this study suggest a neurobiological explanation of why mothers with addictions may find it difficult to comply with the demands of caring for their infants.

“The transition to motherhood is inherently stressful. It is the enhanced perceived reward value of infant cues, coupled with the sense of reward and pleasure experienced by the mother, that often help to sustain a mother’s attention and responsiveness to her infant during a critical developmental period,” Kim said. “When the functions of the dopamine- and oxytocin-associated maternal circuitry go awry, as our study has suggested here in the case of substance addictions, mothers may be compromised in their abilities to care for their infants, and the risk for abuse and neglect may rise.”

When mothers are involved in substance addiction, the repercussions extend to their children. Understanding the neurobiological relationship between substance addictions and impaired maternal responses may facilitate earlier and more refined interventions to help support mothers with substance addictions and the infants in their care, she said.


This is the first human study examining how the mother’s brain response to her own infant is modified in the presence of substance addiction. Other researchers involved in this investigation include Lane Strathearn from the University of Iowa, who was the senior author of the study, Udita Iyengar from King’s College in London, and Linda C. Mayes, Marc N. Potenza and Helen J. V. Rutherford all from Yale University.

Funding: This study was funded by the NIDA, R01 DA026437, R01 DA06025, and R01 DA02446.

Source: Jeannette Jimenez – Baylor College of Medicine
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Mothers with substance addictions show reduced reward responses when viewing their own infant’s face” by Sohye Kim, Udita Iyengar, Linda C. Mayes, Marc N. Potenza, Helena J. V. Rutherford, and Lane Strathearn in Human Brain Mapping. Published online July 26 2017 doi:10.1002/hbm.23731

Baylor College of Medicine “Substance Addiction Changes Mother’s Response to Infant.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 27 July 2017.


Mothers with substance addictions show reduced reward responses when viewing their own infant’s face

Maternal addiction constitutes a major public health problem affecting children, with high rates of abuse, neglect, and foster care placement. However, little is known about the ways in which substance addiction alters brain function related to maternal behavior. Prior studies have shown that infant face cues activate similar dopamine-associated brain reward regions to substances of abuse.

Here, we report on a functional MRI study documenting that mothers with addictions demonstrate reduced activation of reward regions when shown reward-related cues of their own infants. Thirty-six mothers receiving inpatient treatment for substance addiction were scanned at 6 months postpartum, while viewing happy and sad face images of their own infant compared to those of a matched unknown infant.

When viewing happy face images of their own infant, mothers with addictions showed a striking pattern of decreased activation in dopamine- and oxytocin-innervated brain regions, including the hypothalamus, ventral striatum, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex—regions in which increased activation has previously been observed in mothers without addictions.

Our results are the first to demonstrate that mothers with addictions show reduced activation in key reward regions of the brain in response to their own infant’s face cues.

“Mothers with substance addictions show reduced reward responses when viewing their own infant’s face” by Sohye Kim, Udita Iyengar, Linda C. Mayes, Marc N. Potenza, Helena J. V. Rutherford, and Lane Strathearn in Human Brain Mapping. Published online July 26 2017 doi:10.1002/hbm.23731

Allergies During Pregnancy Contribute to Changes in Brain of Offspring: Rat Study

Summary: Researchers report the amount of GABA in person’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked the ability to keep several things in mind simultaneously.

Source: Ohio State University.

Discovery could help explain links between maternal allergies and ADHD, autism.

A new study in rats could begin to explain why allergies during pregnancy are linked to higher risks for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism in children.

Researchers at The Ohio State University found significant changes in the brain makeup of fetuses and newborn rats exposed to allergens during pregnancy.

Animals that lived to adulthood after allergen exposure before birth showed signs of hyperactivity and antisocial behavior and decreased anxiety, found a research team led by Kathryn Lenz, an Ohio State assistant professor of psychology.

“This is evidence that prenatal exposure to allergens alters brain development and function and that could be an underappreciated factor in the development of neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Lenz, who presented her research Nov. 16 in San Diego at Neuroscience 2016, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Though there are established links between allergies and ADHD and autism – as well as between inflammation and risk of autism, schizophrenia and ADHD – the cellular-level changes that could contribute to those connections largely remain a mystery.

Autism and ADHD are both three to four times as common in boys than in girls, Lenz said. And so she and her collaborators set out to look for sex differences in the rats as well.

“We’re really interested in figuring out unknown factors in psychological disorders and in differences between male and female brain development as it relates to autism, ADHD and other disorders,” Lenz said.

To study the effects of allergies on offspring, researchers sensitized female rats to ovalbumin (found in egg whites) before pregnancy. Then, 15 days into their pregnancies, they exposed them to the allergen, prompting an immune response in the animals.

They analyzed whether prenatal allergen exposure changed the number and behavior of immune cells in the developing brain of offspring. They explored possible changes in young rats’ physical activity, anxiety-like behavior, ability to learn and sociability. And they examined the density of dendritic spines in the juvenile animals’ brains. The spines protrude from neurons and are vital to cellular-level communication in the brain.

Rats exposed to allergens before birth had higher levels of immune cells called mast cells in the brain and lower numbers of immune cells called microglia, regardless of the animals’ gender.

Animals with allergic mothers were hyperactive, but had lower levels of anxiety-like behavior. When they interacted with other juvenile rats, the males in the allergen group were less likely to roughhouse with their peers.

“Young rats engage in social play and males are more rough and tumble and usually play much more than females,” Lenz said.

“The males born to the allergen-exposed mothers looked more like females. They were more socially reserved. They were really hyperactive, but socially disengaged. That looks a bit like ADHD.”

And when the researchers looked at the animals’ ability to be mentally flexible, the rats born to allergic mothers had a tougher time, Lenz said.

Image shows microglia.

“They have to use rules to find a reward – a Cheerio in a terracotta pot – and the rules we give them keep shifting,” Lenz said, explaining that in one test the treat might be in a pot covered in sandpaper and in another test it might be in a pot covered in velvet.

The rats in the allergen group weren’t as capable of adapting to the changing parameters of the test, and the males had deficits that were more significant than the females.

Early data from the study shows that the dendritic spines – the points of synaptic connection between cells in the frontal cortex of the animals’ brains – were decreased in males with allergy exposure and increased in their female counterparts.


Funding: The study was supported by The National Institute of Mental Health.

Lenz’s collaborators at Ohio State were undergraduate students Annemarie Krug and Aarohi Joshi and laboratory technician Anabel Galan.

Source: Kathryn Lenz – Ohio State University
Image Source: This NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.
Original Research: The study will be presented at Neuroscience 2016 in San Diego between November 12 – 16, 2016.

When do you need a caregiver for your homebound senior

We need a companion, home helper or caregiver for our 70plus mom and dad who live alone to avoid emergencies, to allow us to function and take care of our bodies too in the same way we care for our parents, to give more quality time to our aging parents and to provide the necessary care (non-medical) such as exercises, walking,massage,assistance in daily living (bathing, feeding, others).

Having an Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease is very challenging. We want to avoid the following when caring for seniors with degenerative disease:


Many medications have side effects such as dizziness, headaches, feeling tired, contipation and more.  When the legs are weak due to health issues and exacerbated by lack of exercise and over medication, fall can happen when there is no assisted device such as cane or rollator, living alone and lack of energy from the body (lack of iron, mental health issues, digestive health issues, lack of sleep, others).


Sometimes older adults are addicted to pain killers or other medications when not supervised and can result to emergencies for them and the people around them.  Living alone can also exacerbate the issue.

Lack of assistance in daily living leading to more issues

Just having a companion can mean a lot to a senior who lives alone. They need constant interaction and be read to and have someone to walk or exercise or drive around town.  Bathing and dressing will be more difficult based on the health condition.  Many times during the night, seniors get up or need to be changed (diaper changed) and have to be calmed due to anxiety issues (major issue).  Caregivers know that constipation can lead to many more health issues (mental,physical and aggrevation of current health issues). They constantly monitor whether the client is breathing properly, responding well, has appetite, need to be warmed or has a UTI.

Stories from caregivers

One client was told by his doctor that he has only 6 months to live. His caregiver started him on a healthy diet of greens and healthy protein. He lived for 5 more years.  You will hear the caregiver talk to him daily, Do you need anything Henry? Are you cold? Do you need your food now?


Contact Motherhealth caregivers at 408-854-1883 for holistic caregiving to your homebound bay area seniors. motherhealth@gmail.com




10 New Things Science Says About Being a Mom by Randy Rieland

For all what we think we know about moms, here are some fresh conclusions researchers have drawn about them since last Mother’s Day.

Your Brain when mom is nearby

Look Ma, two hands: A study at the University of Illinois concluded that teenagers are safer drivers when their moms are with them. No surprise there. But that’s not all they found. The researchers determined that having Mom nearby actually affected activity in a teen’s brain. Twenty-five teen drivers were asked to complete a driving simulation test as quickly as possible. At each of the intersections, the driver had a choice of running a yellow light or stopping for it, which cost them three extra seconds of time. When they were by themselves, drivers ran the yellow light 55 percent of the time; when Mom was nearby, that dropped to 45 percent. Here’s the best part: When a driver was alone, scans showed his or her brain’s reward center became more active when they ran yellow lights. But when their mothers were next to them, the same thing happened in their brains when they stopped at lights.

Quality Time

Quality rules: For all those mothers who don’t think they spend enough time with their kids, cut yourself a break. Research published in the April issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family says the quantity of time parents spend with their children doesn’t make much of a difference in how they turn out, particularly during what would seem to be an mpressionable period between ages three and 11. The quantity of parent-child time matters a bit more with teenagers—more one-on-one time can help adolescents stay out of trouble. But overall, the researchers suggest that it’s all about the quality of that time spent together. What makes a big difference, they say, is how warm and affectionate mom is.

Listening to mom and talking to your newborn

Listen to your mother: It’s long been believed that a mother who talks to her baby before it’s born can help the child’s development. Now a study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston suggests that a mother’s heartbeat and the sound of her voice can actually help the baby’s brain grow. The scientists studied 40 babies born eight to 15 weeks premature—infants who spent most of their time alone in an incubator and not with their mothers. But, using tiny speakers in the incubators, they exposed half the babies to the sounds of their mothers’ voices and heartbeats for three hours every day.  And, according to the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the babies who heard those mama sounds developed significantly larger auditory cortex, the hearing center of the brain.

Mother’s nurturing instincts

Mom hearing:  Why is it that mothers always seem to be able to hear their babies cry before anyone else does? It appears to have to do with oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone.” Scientists at New York University say that as oxytocin surges in a mother’s brain after childbirth, it actually changes the way auditory signals are processed and makes her brain more sensitive to the sound of her baby’s cries. Not only did the researchers find that to be the case with mother mice, but even when virgin mice were given oxytocin, they started to act like moms, responding to the cries of baby mice and even carrying them back to the nest.

Educated mothers

A matter of degrees: More highly educated women—those with a master’s degree or higher—are becoming moms than was the case 20 years ago. A new report from the Pew Research Center concludes that one out of five women between 40 and 44 years of age who have graduate degrees now choose to remain childless, compared to 30 percent of those women in 1994. Overall, childlessness among American women between 40 and 44, regardless of education, is at its lowest point in a decade. One big factor, according to the researchers, is that during the past 20 years, more women have risen into management positions and that has helped change attitudes about balancing work and family.

Open communication

Don’t be so bossy: Kids tend to have warmer feelings about mothers who respect their autonomy and don’t try to control them too much. So say researchers at the University of Missouri, who found, in a study of 2,000 moms and their children, that mothers who tightly controlled the activities of their children when they were toddlers often continued to behave that way when the child was in the 5th grade. When those kids became adolescents, they were less likely to want to engage with their moms. Said Jean Ipsa, one of the study’s authors, “We found that mothers who supported their children’s autonomy were regarded more positively by their children than mothers who were highly directive.”

Sexual behaviours and cues, your moral compass

It’s complicated: It may not seem fair to blame moms for sexual problems their sons have later in life, but a team of researchers in Prague went there.  Based on a study of 960 Czech men, they concluded that men who had a bad relationship with their mothers when they were children were more likely to also report that as adults they suffered from erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems. The researchers did acknowledge that they didn’t find a direct cause and effect.

Babies acquire their mothers’ experiences

Thanks for sharing: Children start learning fear early in their lives, taking cues from the odor of their mothers. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Michigan and New York University reported on what they observed in mother and baby rats. The mothers had learned to fear the smell of peppermint, and they “taught” this fear to their babies through the alarm odor released when they sensed a peppermint smell. Explained neuroscientist Jacek Debiec, who led the research: “Before they can even make their own experiences, babies basically acquire their mothers’ experiences.”

Math skills

A little math with your dinner: Young kids whose mothers talk to them about math at home, particularly during meals, tend to develop better math skills. A study at the University of Michigan and the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile found that when moms did more than teach counting to their kids—say, they talked about measurements in recipes or counted money with them—those children generally developed math skills at a younger age. The researchers suggested that those kind of interactions helped kids better understand math concepts, such as number comparisons.

Best Friend

Happy BFF Day!: How times have changed. Based on a national telephone survey of 1,000 Millennials done earlier this year by the Benenson Strategy Group, more than half of those young adults—55 percent—said they consider one of their parents to be their best friend. Usually, it was mom.