Chairs: Camelia E. Hostinar, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of California-Davis Psychology Department and Paul D. Hastings, Ph.D., Professor, University of California-Davis Psychology Department


Lynea Witczak, California National Primate Research Center and University of California-Davis Psychology Department

Paul D. Hastings, Ph.D., University of California-Davis Psychology Department, Co-Chair

Stefania Vacaru, Ph.D., Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behavior, Radboud University Medical Center, Netherlands

Sydney Yi, University of California-Davis Psychology Department

Symposium Abstract: 

Attachment bonds shape social-developmental outcomes across mammalian species, yet the neurobiological mechanisms underlying these effects remain to be understood. This translational, international, multi-disciplinary symposium examines neurobiological mechanisms that explain the influential role of attachment bonds in the development of social behavior and stress physiology across age groups and across human and nonhuman primate species. The first talk will focus on coppery titi monkeys, a socially monogamous species in which infants develop selective bonds with their fathers, and present novel evidence that blockade of the juveniles’ oxytocin receptors causes large rises in plasma cortisol, inhibiting the stress-buffering effects of fathers. The second talk will present evidence from Canada that fathers’ positive parenting predicts higher social and general self-esteem in children four years later, and this association is mediated by children’s parasympathetic nervous system regulation at preschool. The third talk will report an association between infant colic and steeper cortisol circadian rhythms overall across ages 1, 2.5, 6, and 10 years in a longitudinal study from the Netherlands, while also testing the moderating role of secure attachment. The final talk will report evidence from the United States that attachment security is associated with a stress-response profile of increased pro-sociality and reduced anxiety after acute stress exposure in 9-11-year-olds. Consistent with the ISDP mission, this symposium will survey multiple neurobiological mechanisms across species and throughout multiple developmental periods to shed light on the mechanisms by which attachment bonds orchestrate the developmental process. 

List of abstracts and presenters: 


Authors and Affiliations:

Lynea R. Witczak1,2, Emilio Ferrer1,Ph.D., and Karen L. Bales1,2, Ph.D.

1University of California-Davis, Department of Psychology

2California National Primate Research Center

Social interactions regulate our behavior and physiology, and strong social bonds can buffer us from stress. Coppery titi monkeys (Plecturocebus cupreus) are socially monogamous South American monkeys that display classic attachment behaviors. Infants form selective bonds with their fathers, making them ideal for studying father-daughter bonds. We established a novel method for determining the strength of an attachment bond in females (n =12). We also investigated how manipulations of oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (AVP) influenced juvenile attachment. Subjects received acute intranasal treatments of saline, low/medium/high OT, low/high AVP, or OT antagonist (OTA) prior to an acute social separation. General linear mixed-effects model results revealed fathers were significant behavioral and physiological stress buffers for their daughters, as evidenced by lower distress vocalizations (p < .001), locomotion (p < .001), and plasma cortisol (p < .001). Additionally, females vocalized less if they exhibited stronger attachments to their fathers as infants (p = .01), and this stress-buffering effect remains even when the daughter is separated from the father (p = .001). While treatments did not alter behaviors, OTA treatments caused the largest rise in plasma cortisol (p < .001), suggesting blockade of OT receptors can inhibit fathers’ stress-buffering effects. Remarkably, females with strong father-daughter bonds exhibited an overall reduced physiological separation distress response (p = .04). Findings from the present study advance current knowledge of the neurobiological mechanisms foundational to female attachment relationships and help inform how social disruptions may differently impact individuals based on the quality of their social bonds.


Authors and affiliations:

Paul D. Hastings1,2, Ph.D. and Elisa Ugarte2,3

1 University of California Davis, Department of Psychology

2 University of California Davis, Center for Mind and Brain

3 University of California Davis, Department of Human Ecology

Socialization research shows that fathers contribute to children’s social competence with peers. Few studies have examined potential mechanisms of paternal socialization effects. Parasympathetic regulation is an essential component of the social engagement system. In 133 families (113 two-parent) with preschoolers (M=3.50y, SD=0.76; 72 girls), we assessed positive (warmth, support, structuring) and negative (criticism, punitive, inflexible) paternal and maternal parenting at home with observations and questionnaires. One day 2 to 5 months later, children were met as they arrived at preschool and outfitted with an ambulatory monitor to record cardiac and gross motor activity during the first 5 minutes of free play with peers. Four years later, 101 children, mothers and teachers reported on children’s social competence. Controlling for motor activity, age and gender, SEM analyses showed that fathers’ positive parenting predicted higher RSA (b=.25, p<.05) and lower HR (b=-.26, p<.01) at preschool, and fathers’ negative parenting predicted higher HR (b=.24, p<.05). Mothers’ parenting did not predict children’s cardiac measures. Preschoolers’ with higher RSA subsequently reported, 4 years later, greater social (b=.30, p<.01) and general (b=.27, p<.05) self-esteem. Analyses of indirect effects revealed that RSA significantly mediated predictive associations of fathers’ positive parenting with children’s social (b=.08, 95% C.I. [.01-.12]) and general (b=.07, 95% C.I. [.01-.11]) self-esteem (see Figure 1). Mothers’ positive parenting directly predicted child-, mother- and teacher-reported social competence (all p<.05), with no mediation via children’s cardiac activity. Hence, paternal positive socialization supports young children’s effective parasympathetic regulation during real-world peer interactions, contributing to their future positive self-evaluations.


Stefania Vacaru, a,b, Ph.D., Bonnie E. Bretta, Roseriet Beijers, a, c, & Carolina de Weerth, a, Ph.D. 

a Department of Cognitive Neuroscience, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behavior, Radboud University Medical Center, Kapittelweg 29, 6525 EN Nijmegen, The Netherlands

b Department of Clinical Child and Family Studies, Faculty of Behavioral and Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, Van der Boechorststraat 7, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands

c Department of Developmental Psychology, Behavioral Science Institute, Radboud University, Montessorilaan 3, 6525 HR Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Early life adversity is associated with dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis (HPAA), often indexed through cortisol production. Cortisol follows a circadian rhythm that develops over the first year of life and typically shows a peak upon waking and a gradual decline throughout the day. While severe forms of adversity are shown to disrupt the circadian rhythm, less severe forms may also lead to aberrant cortisol concentrations and circadian patterns. A quite common, but less researched stressor in early life is infant colic. Up to 1 in 4 infants are affected by colic, a condition characterized by several daily hours of infant crying and accompanied by parents’ feelings of exhaustion and helplessness. In the current prospective study, we assessed relations between infant colic at 6 weeks of age and cortisol circadian rhythm at ages 1-, 2.5-, 6-, and 10-years in a low-risk community sample (N=193). Infant attachment security was investigated as a potential moderator, as a growing secure attachment may buffer infant stress. Infant crying was assessed through a 4-day diary, attachment security at 1 year with the Strange Situation paradigm, and cortisol in saliva. Infant colic was associated with generally steeper cortisol slopes and with a higher cortisol production at age 6 years. Attachment security did not moderate the associations between colic and cortisol circadian rhythm. To our knowledge, this is the first study to indicate an association between colic and the development of the cortisol circadian rhythm beyond infancy in healthy, low-risk children. 


Sydney Yi, Anna Parenteau, & Camelia E. Hostinar, Ph.D. 

Psychology Department and Center for Mind and Brain, University of California-Davis 

Taylor et al. (2000) proposed that the stress response can activate two social-behavioral profiles, “fight-or-flight” (increased antisocial tendencies) or “tend-and-befriend” (increased prosociality). However, little is known about the development of these profiles. This study of 100 youths, ages 9-11 years old, examined correlates of these social-behavioral profiles, including attachment and stress biology. Of these 100 youth, 51 completed the Trier Social Stress Test, and 49 were assigned to a no-stress control group. All participants completed an altruism task, the State Anxiety for Children Scale, Social Skills Rating System (SSRS), Experiences in Close Relationships (ECR) Scale, Kerns Security Scale, and Network of Relationships Inventory (NRI). Salivary cortisol, autonomic nervous system activity, and serum cytokine levels were assessed. The stress group reported more empathy (p=.047) and marginally more state anxiety (p=.09) after the stress task compared to the no-stress group. Consistent with Taylor’s theory, latent profile analysis revealed two profiles in the stress group: one with heightened anxiety and low prosociality post-stress (“fight-or-flight”, n=24) and one with heightened prosociality and low anxiety post-stress (“tend-and-befriend”, n=27). Youth within the “fight-or-flight” profile reported lower attachment security to their parent on the Kerns Security Scale, t(47)=-4.17, p=.001; more attachment avoidance and anxiety on the ECR scale, t(49) = 2.87, p = .006 and t(49)=2.36, p=.02; more conflict and less support from their parent on the NRI, t(49)=2.55, p=.01 and t(49)=-3.56, p=.001. The “fight-or-flight” profile also showed marginally higher systemic inflammation at baseline, t(22)=1.78, p=.08. Attachment security predicts youths’ social-behavioral responses after acute stress.