A recent study conducted on the offsprings of divorced parents has shown a significant decrease in oxytocin levels, or the love hormone in these offsprings, thereby explaining the adversely altered emotional responses of these children that persisits all the way into adulthood.
Divorce is quite prevalent in the United States, with 40 to 50% of all marriages ending in divorce. Furthermore, subsequent marriages have an even higher chance of failing in these cases. Children of divorced parents often develop psychological issues due to their parent’s failing marriage. More often than not, children blame themselves which can manifest as mental illnesses in adulthood.
With the divorce rates reaching 3.2 per 1000 people, the effects of divorce on the offspring of such couples need to be studied. Many studies in the past have been conducted to study the short term and the long term effects of divorce on children. However, the exact mechanism behind this wasn’t understood until recently.
Effects of divorce on the children
Divorce can give rise to feelings of being lost, frustration, anger, and anxiety in the couple. However, the same feelings may be present in children of parents undergoing a divorce. Children tend to be affected socially and emotionally.
Despite the age at which the parents get divorced, children are always affected by this traumatic event. Children may become emotionally sensitive, a term that refers to the emotional response of a child to various situations. Furthermore, they may refrain from social activities and isolate themselves due to the fear that they caused their parent’s divorce.
The mechanism behind the social and emotional effects on children
A new study was conducted with the main objective of understanding the underlying mechanism for socio-emotional effects in these children whose findings were recently published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology. The study led by Maria Boccia, Ph.D., professor of child and family studies at Baylor University in the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences chiefly came to the conclusion that the effects of divorce in the children had effectively manifested into adulthood and also that their stunted emotional state was definitely associated with low oxytocin levels.
What is oxytocin?
Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone/cuddle hormone, is released from the posterior pituitary gland in response to social bonding or physical bonding in the form of hugs, cuddles, or sexual interaction. It plays an important role in childbirth and the bonding period after childbirth.
Oxytocin levels in children from broken homes: Method of study
In the study conducted by Boccia and the team, the feelings of anxiety and depression associated with the divorce of parents were found to be a result of low oxytocin levels. The decrease of the love hormone explains the social and emotional reactions.
In the latest study, 128 subjects between the ages of 18 and 62 were chosen from higher learning institutes in the southeast of the US. 27.3% had divorced parents, with the average age of the subjects at the time of parental divorce being 9 years.
Upon entering the research institute, the subjects were asked to void their bladders and then given a 16-ounce bottle of water to finish before answering the questionnaire made by the Boccia and her team. The questionnaire focused on parenting styles during childhood and the social status of the subjects at the time of the study.
After answering the questions, they were asked to provide a urine sample to the research team to be analyzed for the levels of oxytocin.
Results of the study
The subjects with divorced parents showed lower levels of oxytocin than the subjects with parents who are still together. This subpopulation in the study was found to be more indifferent and to some degree, apathetic.
Regarding parenting styles, 27.3% of the subjects claimed their fathers were more abusive. The study found that the feelings and emotions that ran high in these children during the time of parental divorce resulted in them developing intimacy issues and being more insecure in relationships as adults.
Boccia concluded the study by pressing the need for more studies to be performed to determine if the age of the child at the time of parental divorce plays a role in the whole process.