When our little ones are born, it is a wholly natural reaction to want to cuddle with them all the time. After all, they’re real cuties! But did you know that all of that snuggle time you’re getting in is actually helping your baby develop social skills? A new research study shows that the “cuddle chemical” that is released during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding have been shown to have a “profound” impact on how babies interact. So, cuddle away!
The research study, which had been carried out by Italian and American scientists, began by testing out the impact inhaled oxytocin, also known as “the cuddle chemical,” had on baby monkeys, approximately 2 weeks after their birth. What the researchers found were incredible. The monkeys that were given oxytocin were actually more likely to imitate the facial expressions of the other monkeys around them, as well as their human keepers.
For the study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers kept a close eye on the baby rhesus macaques, looking for clues of them mimicking two facial expressions that were associated with interaction, tongue protrusion and lip smacking. It was found that the monkeys who were given a dose of oxytocin via inhalation proved more likely to mimic the expressions.
The impact of oxytocin has been well documented in adults and older children. However, this study is the first of it’s kind to test the impact of oxytocin on newborn mammals. This groundbreaking research study was carried out at the University of Parma in Italy, and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the United States. Dr. Elizabeth Simpson of the University of Parma says “It was important to test whether oxytocin would promote social behaviors in infants in the same respects as it appears to promote social interaction among adults. Our results indicate that oxytocin is a candidate for further studies on treating developmental disorders of social functioning.”
The infant monkeys were tested three times daily, every other day by researchers who would demonstrate the facial expressions in sequence with the infant monkeys. After receiving a dose of oxytocin, the monkeys became more social and communicative, and were found to make the facial expressions that the researchers had showed them, more often. While the infant monkeys were more likely to perform lip smacking – this is how rhesus mothers communicate with their infants, they also were able to mimic the human researchers in sticking out their tongues.