Oxytocin enhances the experience of attachment security

Anna Buchheim, Markus Heinrichs, Carol George, Dan Pokorny, Eva Koops, Peter Henningsen, Mary-Frances O'Connor, Harald Gündel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

154 Scopus citations


Repeated interactions between infant and caregiver result in either secure or insecure relationship attachment patterns, and insecure attachment may affect individual emotion-regulation and health. Given that oxytocin enhances social approach behavior in animals and humans, we hypothesized that oxytocin might also promote the subjective experience of attachment security in humans. Within a 3-week interval, 26 healthy male students classified with an insecure attachment pattern were invited twice to an experimental session. At the beginning of each experiment, a single dose of oxytocin or placebo was administered intranasally, using a double-blind, placebo-controlled within-subject design. In both conditions, subjects completed an attachment task based on the Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (AAP). Thirty-two AAP picture system presentations depicted attachment-related events (e.g. illness, solitude, separation, and loss), and were each accompanied by four prototypical phrases representing one secure and three insecure attachment categories. In the oxytocin condition, a significant proportion of these insecure subjects (N = 18; 69%) increased in their rankings of the AAP prototypical "secure attachment" phrases and decreased in overall ranking of the "insecure attachment" phrases. In particular, there was a significant decrease in the number of subjects ranking the pictures with "insecure-preoccupied" phrases from the placebo to the oxytocin condition. We find that a single dose of intranasally administered oxytocin is sufficient to induce a significant increase in the experience of attachment security in insecurely attached adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1417-1422
Number of pages6
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes



  • Attachment insecurity
  • Attachment security
  • Emotion-regulation
  • Human attachment
  • Intranasal
  • Oxytocin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems

Cite this

Buchheim, A., Heinrichs, M., George, C., Pokorny, D., Koops, E., Henningsen, P., ... Gündel, H. (2009). Oxytocin enhances the experience of attachment security. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(9), 1417-1422. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.04.002