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date: 05 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Substantial excitement surrounds the mammalian peptide hormone oxytocin (OT) due to its potential to be a “hormone of love”—and more generally, a biological foundation for the diverse classes of intimate social bonds. Yet, theoretical models have struggled to absorb inconsistent, even contradictory, findings. Evolutionary theory will guide a coherent functional interpretation of the OT system. This chapter focuses on life history theory, a branch of theoretical biology that seeks to identify how natural selection shapes organisms’ efforts to optimally allocate limited resources. Endocrine hormones are important mediators of this process. A review of the psychological and physiological literature regarding OT suggests a number of possible trade-offs negotiated by oxytocinergic activity. This chapter proposes a provisional life history model in which OT is central to the regulation of important but vulnerable social relationships. It outlines implications of this model, addresses a number of caveats, and suggests directions for future research.

Keywords: oxytocin, life history theory, trade-offs, behavioral endocrinology, evolutionary biology

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