Date of this Version
Published in Hormones and Behavior 112 (2019), pp 10–19.
We assessed parents' testosterone reactivity to the Strange Situation Procedure (SSP), a moderately stressful parent-infant interaction task that pulls for parental nurturance and caregiving behavior. Parents (146 mothers, 154 fathers) interacted with their 1-year-old infants, and saliva samples were obtained pre- and post-task to assess changes in testosterone. We examined whether testosterone reactivity differed between mothers and fathers, the extent to which parents' characteristic approaches to closeness (i.e., adult attachment orientation) contributed to testosterone changes, and whether any influences of adult attachment orientation were independent of more general personality characteristics (i.e., the Big Five personality dimensions). Results revealed that mothers and fathers showed comparable declines in testosterone during the SSP, and that these declines were attenuated among fathers with a more avoidant attachment orientation (i.e., those less comfortable with closeness). Associations between fathers' avoidance and testosterone reactivity were statistically independent of broader personality traits. Our findings provide some of the first evidence for short-term changes in both mothers' and fathers' testosterone in contexts that pull for nurturance. Moreover, these findings demonstrate that individual differences in adult attachment may play an important role in understanding such changes. We discuss possible explanations for gender differences in associations between adult attachment and parents' testosterone reactivity, and the extent to which testosterone reactivity might be sensitive to changes in context for mothers versus fathers.