A new study from Baylor University “Parental divorce in childhood is related to lower urinary oxytocin concentrations in adulthood” finds that oxytocin levels are significantly lower in adults whose parents divorced when they were children. Researchers say that this might help to explain the difficulty that many children of divorce have in forming relationships in adulthood.
It’s no secret that divorce is on the rise and that it affects many members of the family—and often, the children get the short end of the stick. We know that parental divorce can have short-term and long-term effects on children, from behavior problems and poor performance at school to their difficulty in forming close relationships with others. This study, though, digs deeper into the “why.” Why are kids affected so profoundly?
The researchers at Baylor University recruited 128 people between 18 and 62 years old. 27.3% of these individuals had parents who were divorced, the average age of the individuals when their parents divorced being 9 years old. The team looked closely at the oxytocin levels in both the adults who went through this experience of parental divorce at a young age, as well as those who did not have this experience (for comparison). Additionally, the team asked their participants to answer a few questions about their childhood and their present.
This is how it worked: Participants emptied their bladders and then drank a bottle of water. Then, they answered questions about their parents and peers when they were children, as well as questions about their current situation. These questions were designed to reveal one’s parenting style and their attachment style (a psychological theory about relationships, which is directly related to one’s childhood and how they were parented).
Then, the researchers collected urine samples from the participants, which the team used to analyze oxytocin levels.
The Baylor researchers saw that the oxytocin levels in those who experienced parental divorce at a young age were much lower than the other participants’. They also found that these individuals rated their parents as “less caring”, their childhood selves as “less confident” and “less secure in relationships”, and their current caregiving style as “less sensitive” than the control group in the questionnaire portion.
The researchers say that there is a need for further exploration into these findings. Specifically, they want to better understand how one’s age at the time of their parents’ divorce comes into play.
Divorce is already on the ride during COVID-19 (which we first saw in China), and the pandemic isn’t over yet. This study sheds light on the negative effects that divorce can have on children and helps us better understand why children of divorce might struggle to build their own relationships as they get older. It’s important that we remember these implications on children and offer them the right support to adjust to their parents’ separation.
Boccia, M. L., Cook, C., Marson, L., & Pedersen, C. (2020). Parental divorce in childhood is related to lower urinary oxytocin concentrations in adulthood. Journal of Comparative Psychology. Retrieved September 10, 2020 from https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fcom0000248
(2020, September 9). People Who Were Children When Their Parents Divorced Have Less Oxytocin. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved September 10, 2020 from https://neurosciencenews.com/oxytocin-divorce-16987/