Oxytocin can boost your parenting skills, even if you’re not a parent. Building on years of landmark research into the role of oxytocin in maternal behavior, investigators at NYU Grossman School of Medicine have shown in mice that just watching a mother care for her young can boost oxytocin levels and inspire maternal behavior, even among female rodents with no offspring of their own.
In a paper published online in Nature, the researchers describe a never-before-documented behavior in which virgin female mice housed among a new mom and her pups begin mimicking the mom’s maternal habits within 24 hours, gathering pups into the nest, just like the mom. A deeper analysis of electrical activity in the brains of the virgin mice revealed that just the sight and sound of crying pups separated from their nest could stimulate the production of oxytocin.
“Our study shows that in mice, the best way to be a mom is to watch and learn from an experienced mom,” says study senior investigator Robert C. Froemke, PhD, the Skirball Foundation Professor of Genetics in the Department of Neuroscience and Physiology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “Given the evidence, we propose that similar mechanisms operate in human mothers.”