Jennifer Bartz: Oxytocin & the Neuroscience of Affiliation


De Grandpré Communications Centre, 3801 University, Montreal, QC, CA

Oxytocin & the Neuroscience of Affiliation

Jennifer Bartz, PhD

Associate Professor

Department of Psychology, McGill University

Abstract: Over the last 15 years, the neurohormone oxytocin has emerged as a key variable in the regulation of human social cognition and behavior. Although popularly dubbed the “love hormone” empirical work reveals that the social effects of experimentally manipulating oxytocin via intranasal administration are often nuanced—sometimes facilitating prosocial cognition and behavior, but at other times, or for other individuals, produce null and even anti-social effects. I argue that such variability is not “noise,” but rather may offer clues about the mechanisms by which oxytocin modulates human sociality. In this talk, I will focus on one such possible mechanism—the affiliative motivation hypothesis—and describe how that mechanism can explain oxytocin’s person-dependent effects. I will also present new work looking at the endogenous oxytocin system and close relationship dynamics. Specifically, I will talk about research looking at CD38, a gene implicated in oxytocin secretion, and communal behavior in romantic relationships, and research looking at peripheral oxytocin levels and close relationship survival. 

Bio: Dr. Bartz completed her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology in 2004 with John Lydon at McGill University. She then went on to a Post-doctoral fellowship with Eric Hollander at the Seaver Autism Center in the Department of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, NY. In 2007 she became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai, and in 2011 she retuned to McGill University, and is now an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology. 

Dr. Bartz is an international leader in the study of the biological bases of prosocial behaviour (e.g., cooperation, trust, empathy). Her research on the effects of the neurohormone oxytocin revealed its powerful role in promoting co-operation, empathy and affiliation, but also – for certain individuals in certain situations - contributing to insecure attachment, personality disorders, and even domestic violence.  Her award-winning and highly cited research advances a nuanced understanding of the profound links between brain and social behaviour. She has published her research in such top-tier journals as PNAS, Psychological Science and Current Biology, as well as such top tier specialty journals as Molecular Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry, Trends in Cognitive Sciences and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 

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