The Developmental Trajectory of Oxytocin-Dependent Changes in Psychosocial Adjustment Across Adulthood

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Oxytocin (OT) is a hormone known to influence neurocognitive functioning in humans, particularly the processing of socially and emotionally relevant stimuli. However, we do not have a clear understanding of the relationship between endogenous OT levels and specific facets of psychosocial health in the general adult population, particularly in the context of aging. Two social cognitive mechanisms, social sensitivity and emotional receptivity, were investigated here as candidate mediators between basal salivary OT level and psychosocial adjustment. Drawing upon a healthy community sample of men and women stratified into age cohorts of early (20-39 years) and late adulthood (40-80 years), the present study utilized enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, neuropsychological assessment, and psychometric testing to determine patterns of covariance among OT concentration, performance on social cognitive measures, and self-report of psychosocial functioning. Analysis of the full sample showed that OT levels decrease with age, signifying normative developmental changes in this hormone system. Data also suggested an association between OT concentration and facets of psychosocial adjustment along with an age-related decline in a domain of social cognition. However, there was no evidence that social sensitivity or emotional receptivity mediate these hormone-behavior relationships or that the age-related changes in OT level inform the age-related changes in social cognition. Future studies should probe for the strength of covariance between OT level and discrete psychosocial outcome variables to create a comprehensive and statistically determined assessment of psychosocial adjustment, and should aim to validate salivary OT quantification using known quantification measures such as 2-D liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry.

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First Advisor

Koven, Nancy

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Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

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1 pdf

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