Prenatal and postnatal cortisol and testosterone are related to parental caregiving quality in fathers, but not in mothers

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Abstract

Testosterone and cortisol have both been implicated in human parenting behavior. We investigated the relations between observed quality of caregiving during parent-child interactions and pre- and postnatal testosterone and cortisol levels, in both mothers (N = 88) and fathers (N = 57). Testosterone and cortisol were measured before and after interaction with an infant simulator (prenatal) and with their own child (postnatal) to index basal levels as well as steroid reactivity to the interaction. Our findings are that in fathers, interactions between cortisol and testosterone are related to quality of caregiving both pre- and postnatally. Prenatally there was a stronger negative relation between T and quality of caregiving in fathers with lower cortisol levels, and postnatally there was a stronger negative relation between cortisol and quality of caregiving in fathers high in testosterone levels. Furthermore, prenatal cortisol levels were related to paternal quality of caregiving during interaction with their own child. In mothers, no associations between quality of caregiving and our endocrine measures were observed. We interpret our findings in the context of hyperreactive physiological responses observed in parents at risk for insensitive caregiving, and in light of the dual-hormone hypothesis. The current findings contribute to the growing literature on the endocrine antecedents of human caregiving behavior.

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Bos, P. A., Hechler, C., Beijers, R., Shinohara, K., Esposito, G., & de Weerth, C. (2018). Prenatal and postnatal cortisol and testosterone are related to parental caregiving quality in fathers, but not in mothers. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 97, 94–103. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.07.013

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