The Biology of Resilience

2014-08-27 03:18:03 | BioPortfolio


Positive social relationships have consistently been associated with better health, although the neurobiological underpinnings of these observed effects remain largely unknown. The overall goal of the proposed work is to explore novel biological pathways that may explain how social relationships influence health. Recent theorizing suggests that the oxytocin system may underlie some of the observed beneficial effects. Four hypotheses will be examined:

1. Oxytocin ameliorates the deleterious neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and subjective effects of stress.

2. Oxytocin and social support have similar and additive stress-buffering effects.

3. Effects of oxytocin are evident among younger and older adults.

4. Effects of oxytocin are stronger in women vs men.


Positive social relationships have consistently been associated with better health, although the neurobiological underpinnings of these observed effects are not well understood. Valuable insight may be gained by a life course perspective as it is becoming increasingly apparent that early life social experiences are crucially related to later life functioning and well-being. The overall goal of the proposed work is to explore novel biological pathways that help to explain how social relationships influence health. Recent theorizing on the biology relating positive social and emotional factors to health and patterns of resilience suggest that the oxytocin system may underlie some of the observed beneficial effects. Historically, most work on the oxytocin system in humans has been tied to reproductive outcomes (e.g., lactation), with more limited work on children and young adults. A growing body of experimental research with animals suggests that early in life, oxytocin not only creates powerful social bonds between a mother and child but may also stimulate growth and restorative processes as well as buffer deleterious stress-related neuroendocrine activation throughout the life course. Moreover, the animal literature has suggested that oxytocin is more potent in the presence of higher estrogen levels, leading investigators to hypothesize that effects of oxytocin are stronger in women than men, but few studies have tested this hypothesis in humans. A better understanding of the inter-relationships between oxytocin, social relationships, stress, and health will be gained by examining these factors in a controlled laboratory setting. The immediate goal of this research is to determine whether oxytocin plays a critical role in determining neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and subjective responses to stress across age and gender, and to examine the effects of oxytocin in relation to those of social support. To achieve these goals, experimental research is proposed to examine the effects of exogenously administered (intranasal) oxytocin on psychological and physiological outcomes, under conditions of stress. The specific aims of this exploratory project are to test the following hypotheses:

1. Oxytocin ameliorates the deleterious neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and subjective effects of stress.

2. Oxytocin and social support have similar and additive stress-buffering effects.

3. Effects of oxytocin are stronger in women versus men.

4. Effects of oxytocin are similar across a range of younger and older adult ages.

Hypotheses will be tested via a placebo-controlled double blind study using a sample of healthy men and women recruited from the community (overall n = 320). The proposed experimental study will consider oxytocin effects on a range of outcomes. These include autonomic reactivity as measured by blood pressure responses and high frequency heart rate variability (measure of vagal tone). Stress-related cardiovascular phenotypes as characterized by the patterning of ventricle contractility, vascular resistance, and cardiac output will also be assessed. Other outcomes include measures of neuroendocrine effects as measured by levels of cortisol and DHEA hormone, subjective distress and positive affect. Participants will be randomly assigned to receive either exogenous oxytocin or placebo. They will undergo a social stress manipulation with or without social support (randomly assigned), and outcome measures will be obtained at multiple times during the experimental procedure. The experiment will test whether effects of oxytocin and social support are similar and additive, and will also compare effects of oxytocin and social support across men and women of varying ages. This multidisciplinary study uses a biobehavioral framework to examine interactions between psychological, social, and biological levels of functioning, and is informed by theories of how key early life exposures may impact health over the life course. The provision of an R21 award for this work will facilitate novel research that could have a major impact on our understanding of whether and how oxytocin influences responses to stress in humans. The proposed exploratory research will lay the groundwork for the submission of an R01 grant proposal that will have greater resources for addressing both the questions that cannot be addressed with this more limited mechanism as well as new questions that will undoubtedly arise. Ultimately we expect this project will provide a solid platform from which to launch a larger program of research aimed at identifying how positive social and emotional experiences influence adult health and longevity. A neurobiological understanding of resilience can inform efforts for both prevention and intervention of diseases or problems common in later life.

Study Design

Allocation: Randomized, Control: Placebo Control, Intervention Model: Factorial Assignment, Masking: Double Blind (Subject, Investigator, Outcomes Assessor), Primary Purpose: Basic Science


Stress Response


intranasal oxytocin, Placebo, Social support, No Social Support, Female gender, Male Gender


Harvard School of Public Health
United States




Harvard School of Public Health

Results (where available)

View Results


Published on BioPortfolio: 2014-08-27T03:18:03-0400

Clinical Trials [4294 Associated Clinical Trials listed on BioPortfolio]

Oxytocin Modulates Eye Gaze Behavior During Social Processing

The main aim of the study is to examine whether the effects of intranasal oxytocin on eye-gaze behavior towards social stimuli are modulated via individual differences in trait autism

Oxytocin and Social Behavior Over the Lifespan

This study will investigate if intranasal oxytocin (a hormone naturally produced in the body) promotes motivation for, and engagement in, social activities in older adults.

Deciphering the Role of Oxytocin in Motivation: an fMRI Study. Part II

The proposed study will investigate the effects of intranasal oxytocin administration on neural activity associated with social and non-social motivation.

The Influence of Oxytocin on Socio-communicative Sensitivity

Oxytocin (OT) is a neuropeptide that acts as a neurotransmitter and neuromodulator in the brain. Previous studies have shown that intranasal administration of OT improves social cognition ...

Intranasal Oxytocin for the Treatment of Children and Adolescents With ASD (OXY)

Extensive data has been accumulated to suggest that central release of oxytocin is important for social cognition and function, as well as likely involved in anxiety modulation and repetit...

PubMed Articles [14637 Associated PubMed Articles listed on BioPortfolio]

Saliva oxytocin measures do not reflect peripheral plasma concentrations after intranasal oxytocin administration in men.

Oxytocin plays an important role in social behavior. Thus, there has been significant research interest for the role of the oxytocin system in several psychiatric disorders, and the potential of intra...

Cortisol response to stress in schizophrenia: Associations with oxytocin, social support and social functioning.

Previous studies reported attenuated cortisol reactivity as one explanation for poor social functioning in schizophrenia. Recent research has demonstrated that both glucocorticoid and oxytocin systems...

The influence of social support on sexual mental health of female college students.

The aim of this study was to explore the impact of social support on female college students' sexual mental health (SMH) on the basis of realizing the current status of their SMH.A total of 627 female...

Family and community support among older Chilean adults: the importance of heterogeneous social support sources for quality of life.

Family and community social networks act as social resources that promote well-being at advanced ages. In this study, we analyze the association between social support received from personal social ne...

Intranasal oxytocin does not reduce age-related difficulties in social cognition.

Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that plays a key role in social processing and there are several studies suggesting that intranasally administered oxytocin may enhance social cognitive abilities and visual...

Medical and Biotech [MESH] Definitions

Support systems that provide assistance and encouragement to individuals with physical or emotional disabilities in order that they may better cope. Informal social support is usually provided by friends, relatives, or peers, while formal assistance is provided by churches, groups, etc.

A personality trait rendering the individual acceptable in social or interpersonal relations. It is related to social acceptance, social approval, popularity, social status, leadership qualities, or any quality making him a socially desirable companion.

Organized efforts to address ongoing psychological and social problems of individuals, their partners, families and caregivers.

Policies and programs which ensure that DISPLACED PERSONS and chronic illnesses receive the support and SOCIAL SERVICES needed to live in their communities.

The use or threatened use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of criminal laws for purposes of intimidation, coercion, or ransom, in support of political or social objectives.

More From BioPortfolio on "The Biology of Resilience"

Quick Search


Relevant Topics

Within medicine, nutrition (the study of food and the effect of its components on the body) has many different roles. Appropriate nutrition can help prevent certain diseases, or treat others. In critically ill patients, artificial feeding by tubes need t...

Biological Therapy
Biological therapy involves the use of living organisms, substances derived from living organisms, or laboratory-produced versions of such substances to treat disease. Some biological therapies for cancer use vaccines or bacteria to stimulate the body&rs...

Cardiovascular disease (CVD)
Acute Coronary Syndromes (ACS) Blood Cardiovascular Dialysis Hypertension Stent Stroke Vascular Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes all the diseases of the heart and circulation including coronary heart disease (angina...

Searches Linking to this Trial