Oxytocin but not naturally occurring variation in caregiver touch associates with infant social orienting

Alicja Brzozowska, Matthew R. Longo, Denis Mareschal, Frank Wiesemann, Teodora Gliga

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Caregiver touch is crucial for infants’ healthy development, but its role in shaping infant cognition has been relatively understudied. In particular, despite strong premises to hypothesize its function in directing infant attention to social information, little empirical evidence exists on the topic. In this study, we investigated the associations between naturally occurring variation in caregiver touch and infant social attention in a group of 6- to 13-month-old infants (n = 71). Additionally, we measured infant salivary oxytocin as a possible mediator of the effects of touch on infant social attention. The hypothesized effects were investigated both short term, with respect to touch observed during parent–infant interactions in the lab, and long term, with respect to parent-reported patterns of everyday touching behaviors. We did not find evidence that caregiver touch predicts infant social attention or salivary oxytocin levels, short term or long term. However, we found that salivary oxytocin predicted infant preferential attention to faces relative to nonsocial objects, measured in an eye-tracking task. Our findings confirm the involvement of oxytocin in social orienting in infancy, but raise questions regarding the possible environmental factors influencing the infant oxytocin system.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere22290
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number6
Early online date8 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022

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