Neurobiological Factors Underlying Attachment and Trust in the Believing Process

  • Corina Aguilar-Raab
  • Beate Ditzen
Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR, volume 1)


Credition – the cognitive process of believing – is embedded in a social-interactional framework. As soon as an individual becomes involved in a process of believing, he or she engages in motivational, cognitive, and affective processes based on the contact with and perception of an object of belief and the “community of believers” or “in-group members”. Social cognition and social behaviour are the major constituents of these interactional processes. Apparently, attachment and trust – which are crucial for healthy outcomes throughout the lifespan – are strongly associated with one another. Psychobiological processes are important underlying factors that are entangled with the social-interactional dimension of credition. In social neuroscience , current research of the neuroendocrine system has primarily focused on the neuropeptides Oxytocin (OT) and Vasopressin (VP) as they have important regulatory functions when people engage in social interactions. For example, OT stimulates the motivation to develop an attachment to someone and increases qualities like trust. The effects are dependent on the influences of stress, as chronic and traumatic stress inhibits the motivation to attach while low levels of stress foster bonding behavior. In contrast, VP seems to be involved with increased vigilance, arousal, activation, and anxiety, which are required aspects of the flight-fight mechanism. Interestingly, whether OT and VP are associated with positive or negative social cognition and behavior depends on the (social) context and other contributing factors. We conclude that attachment and trust are important factors in the believing process. Combined with cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes, these factors influence behavior towards ourselves and others, which is in turn strongly influences neuroendocrine functions. Attachment and trust and their associated neurobiological foundations are reciprocally associated. Hence, a continuation of scientific progress needs to take place in order to produce more complex, high-quality, multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary approaches. Only then will we be able to gain a more comprehensive understanding of these mechanisms and how we can effectively foster positive changes of social interactions related to health and well-being.


Autism Spectrum Disorder Attachment Style Social Neuroscience Neurobiological Factor Intranasal Oxytocin 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Abrams D, Hogg MA (2006) Social identifications: a social psychology of intergroup relations and group processes. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Ajzen I (1985) From intentions to actions: a theory of planned behavior. In: Kuhl J, Beckmann J (eds) Action control. Springer, Berlin/Heidelberg, pp 11–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Antonovsky A (1997) Salutogenese . Zur Entmystifizierung der Gesundheit. dgvt-Verlag, TübingenGoogle Scholar
  4. Bandura A (1982) Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. Am Psychol 37(2):122–147. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.37.2.122 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bandura A (1997) Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Barone L (2003) Developmental protective and risk factors in borderline personality disorder: a study using the adult attachment interview. Attach Hum Dev 5(1):64–77. doi: 10.1080/1461673031000078634 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bartels A, Zeki S (2004) The neural correlates of maternal and romantic love. NeuroImage 21(3):1155–1166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bartz JA, Zaki J, Bolger N, Ochsner KN (2011) Social effects of oxytocin in humans: context and person matter. Trends Cogn Sci 15(7):301–309. doi Google Scholar
  9. Berkman LF, Kawachi I (2000) Social epidemiology. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Bertsch K, Schmidinger I, Neumann ID, Herpertz SC (2013) Reduced plasma oxytocin levels in female patients with borderline personality disorder. Horm Behav 63(3):424–429. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Buckley S (2010) Sexuality in labour and birth: an intimate perspective. In: Walsh D, Downe S (eds) Essential midwifery practice: intrapartum care. West Sussex UK, Wiley-Blackwell, pp 213–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carter CS (2007) Sex differences in oxytocin and vasopressin: implications for autism spectrum disorders? Behav Brain Res 176(1):170–186. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carter CS (2014) Oxytocin pathways and the evolution of human behavior. Annu Rev Psychol 65(1):17–39. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115110 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dalai Lama (2012) Beyond religion: ethics and happiness in a global world. Rider, LondonGoogle Scholar
  15. De Dreu CKW, Greer LL, Handgraaf MJJ, Shalvi S, Van Kleef GA, Baas M, Feith SWW (2010) The neuropeptide oxytocin regulates parochial altruism in intergroup conflict among humans. Science 328(5984):1408–1411. doi: 10.1126/science.1189047 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. De Dreu CKW, Greer LL, Van Kleef GA, Shalvi S, Handgraaf MJ (2011) Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism. Proc Natl Acad Sci 108(4):1262–1266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ditzen B, Heinrichs M (2014) Psychobiology of social support: the social dimension of stress buffering. Restor Neurol Neurosci 32(1):149–162Google Scholar
  18. Ditzen B, Neumann ID, Bodenmann G, von Dawans B, Turner RA, Ehlert U, Heinrichs M (2007) Effects of different kinds of couple interaction on cortisol and heart rate responses to stress in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology 32(5):565–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ditzen B, Schaer M, Gabriel B, Bodenmann G, Ehlert U, Heinrichs M (2009) Intranasal oxytocin increases positive communication and reduces cortisol levels during couple conflict. Biol Psychiatry 65(9):728–731. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ditzen B, Schmidt S, Strauss B, Nater UM, Ehlert U, Heinrichs M (2008) Adult attachment and social support interact to reduce psychological but not cortisol responses to stress. J Psychosom Res 64(5):479–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Domes G, Heinrichs M, Michel A, Berger C, Herpertz SC (2007) Oxytocin improves “mind-reading” in humans. Biol Psychiatry 61(6):731–733. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Domes G, Kumbier E, Heinrichs M, Herpertz SC (2014) Oxytocin promotes facial emotion recognition and amygdala reactivity in adults with Asperger Syndrome. Neuropsychopharmacology 39(3):698–706. doi: 10.1038/npp.2013.254 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ebstein RP, Knafo A, Mankuta D, Chew SH, Lai PS (2012) The contributions of oxytocin and vasopressin pathway genes to human behavior. Horm Behav 61(3):359–379. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Editoral (2012) Focus on social neuroscience. Nat Neurosci 15(5):645–645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ferri SL, Flanagan-Cato LM (2012) Oxytocin and dendrite remodeling in the hypothalamus. Horm Behav 61(3):251–258. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fonagy P, Target M, Gergely G (2000) Attachment and borderline personality disorder: a theory and some evidence. Psychiatr Clin N Am 23(1):103–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fonagy P, Mayes L, Target M (2007) Developmental science and psychoanalysis: integration and innovation. Karnac Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  28. Glanville JL, Andersson MA, Paxton P (2013) Do social connections create trust? An examination using new longitudinal data social forces doi: 10.1093/sf/sot079
  29. Guzman YF, Tronson NC, Jovasevic V, Sato K, Guedea AL, Mizukami H, Radulovic J (2013) Fear-enhancing effects of septal oxytocin receptors. Nat Neurosci 16(9):1185–1187. doi: 10.1038/nn.3465 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Heim C, Young LJ, Newport DJ, Mletzko T, Miller AH, Nemeroff CB (2008) Lower CSF oxytocin concentrations in women with a history of childhood abuse. Mol Psychiatry 14(10):954–958CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Heinrichs M, Baumgartner T, Kirschbaum C, Ehlert U (2003) Social support and oxytocin interact to suppress cortisol and subjective responses to psychosocial stress. Biol Psychiatry 54(12):1389–1398. doi: Scholar
  32. Hinton DE, Ojserkis RA, Jalal B, Peou S, Hofmann SG (2013) Loving-kindness in the treatment of traumatized refugees and minority groups: A typology of mindfulness and the nodal network model of affect and affect regulation. J Clin Psychol 69(8):817–828CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hofmann SG, Grossman P, Hinton DE (2011) Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: potential for psychological interventions. Clin Psychol Rev 31(7):1126–1132. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hunsberger B, Jackson LM (2005) Religion, meaning, and prejudice. J Soc Issues 61(4):807–826. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2005.00433.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hutcherson CA, Seppala EM, Gross JJ (2008) Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion 8(5):720–724. doi: 10.1037/a0013237 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Insel TR, Young LJ (2001) The neurobiology of attachment. Nat Rev Neurosci 2(2):129–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Jenkins JS, Ang VT, Hawthorn J, Rossor MN, Iversen LL (1984) Vasopressin, oxytocin and neurophysins in the human brain and spinal cord. Brain Res 291(1):111–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Johnson MK, Rowatt WC, LaBouff JP (2012) Religiosity and prejudice revisited: in-group favoritism, out-group derogation, or both? Psychol Relig Spiritual 4(2):154–168. doi: 10.1037/a0025107 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kabat-Zinn J (1990) Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your mind and body to face stress, pain, and illness. Delacorte, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  40. Kanat M, Heinrichs M, Domes G (2014) Oxytocin and the social brain: Neural mechanisms and perspectives in human research. Brain Res 1580:160–171. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kirsch P, Esslinger C, Chen Q, Mier D, Lis S, Siddhanti S, Meyer-Lindenberg A (2005) Oxytocin modulates neural circuitry for social cognition and fear in humans. J Neurosci 25(49):11489–11493. doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.3984-05.2005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kosfeld M, Heinrichs M, Zak PJ, Fischbacher U, Fehr E (2005) Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature 435(7042):673–676CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Landgraf R, Neumann ID (2004) Vasopressin and oxytocin release within the brain: a dynamic concept of multiple and variable modes of neuropeptide communication. Front Neuroendocrinol 25(3):150–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lemos JC, Wanat MJ, Smith JS, Reyes BA, Hollon NG, Van Bockstaele EJ, Phillips PE (2012) Severe stress switches CRF action in the nucleus accumbens from appetitive to aversive. Nature 490(7420):402–406. doi: 10.1038/nature11436 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Loup F, Tribollet E, Dubois-Dauphin M, Dreifuss JJ (1991) Localization of highaffinity binding sites for oxytocin and vasopressin in the human brain. An autoradiographic study. Brain Res 555(2):220–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lukas M, Neumann ID (2011) Brain oxytocin is a main regulator of prosocial behaviour - link to psychopathology. In: Eapen V (ed) Autism – a neurodevelopmental journey from genes to behaviour. InTech, Rijeka. doi: 10.5772/18841 Google Scholar
  47. Mascaro JS, Darcher A, Negi LT, Raison CL (2015) The neural mediators of kindness-based meditation: a theoretical model. Front Psychol 6:109. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00109 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. McCall C, Singer T (2012) The animal and human neuroendocrinology of social cognition, motivation and behavior. Nat Neurosci 15(5):681–688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mehnert A, Müller D, Koch U (2007) Die Erfassung von sinnbasierten Bewältigungsstrategien und Lebenseinstellungen. Z Klin Psychol Psychother 36(3):176–188. doi: 10.1026/1616-3443.36.3.176 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Olff M, Frijling JL, Kubzansky LD, Bradley B, Ellenbogen MA, Cardoso C, van Zuiden M (2013) The role of oxytocin in social bonding, stress regulation and mental health: an update on the moderating effects of context and interindividual differences. Psychoneuroendocrinology 38(9):1883–1894. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pargament KI, Koenig HG, Perez LM (2000) The many methods of religious coping: development and initial validation of the RCOPE. J Clin Psychol 56(4):519–543CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Pariante CM (2014) Depression during pregnancy: molecular regulations of mothers’ and children’s behaviour. Biochem Soc Trans 42(2):582–586. doi: 10.1042/bst20130246 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Piaget J (1976) Piaget’s Theory. In: Inhelder B, Chipman H, Zwingmann C (eds) Piaget and his school. Springer, Berlin/Heidelberg, pp 11–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Peichl J (2009) Neurogene Reaktion auf Bedrohung, Liebensbindung und traumatische Opfer-Täter-Bindung. Trauma and Gewalt 1:18–33Google Scholar
  55. Puglia MH, Lillard TS, Morris JP, Connelly JJ (2015) Epigenetic modification of the oxytocin receptor gene influences the perception of anger and fear in the human brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 112(11):3308–3313. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1422096112 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rodrigues SM, Saslow LR, Garcia N, John OP, Keltner D (2009) Oxytocin receptor genetic variation relates to empathy and stress reactivity in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci 106(50):21437–21441. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0909579106 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Saroglou V (2011) Believing, bonding, behaving, and belonging: the big four religious dimensions and cultural variation. J Cross-Cult Psychol 42(8):1320–1340. doi: 10.1177/0022022111412267 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schmid V, Downe S (2010) Midwifery skills for normalising unusual labours. In: Walsh D, Downe S (eds) Essential midwifery practice: intrapartum care. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, pp 159–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Schwarz M (2009) Is psychology based on a methodological error? Integr Psychol Behav Sci 43(3):185–213. doi: 10.1007/s12124-009-9089-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Seitz RJ, Angel HF (2012) Processes of believing – a review and conceptual account. Rev Neurosci 23(3):303–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Shamay-Tsoory SG, Fischer M, Dvash J, Harari H, Perach-Bloom N, Levkovitz Y (2009) Intranasal administration of oxytocin increases envy and Schadenfreude (Gloating). Biol Psychiatry 66(9):864–870. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Shear J, Varela FJ (1999) The view from within: first-person approaches to the study of consciousness. Academic, ImprintGoogle Scholar
  63. Smith MP, Ayad VJ, Mundell SJ, McArdle CA, Kelly E, Lopez Bernal A (2006) Internalization and desensitization of the oxytocin receptor is inhibited by Dynamin and clathrin mutants in human embryonic kidney 293 cells. Mol Endocrinol 20(2):379–388. doi: 10.1210/me.2005-0031 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sofroniew MV (1983) Morphology of vasopressin and oxytocin neurones and their central and vascular projections. Prog Brain Res 60:101–114. doi: 10.1016/s0079-6123(08)64378-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stoop R (2014) Neuromodulation by oxytocin and vasopressin in the central nervous system as a basis for their rapid behavioral effects. Curr Opin Neurobiol 29:187–193. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Strathearn L (2011) Maternal neglect: oxytocin, dopamine and the neurobiology of attachment. J Neuroendocrinol 23(11):1054–1065. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2011.02228.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Theodoridou A, Rowe AC, Penton-Voak IS, Rogers PJ (2009) Oxytocin and social perception: oxytocin increases perceived facial trustworthiness and attractiveness. Horm Behav 56(1):128–132. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Torner L, Toschi N, Nava G, Clapp C, Neumann ID (2002) Increased hypothalamic expression of prolactin in lactation: involvement in behavioural and neuroendocrine stress responses. Eur J Neurosci 15(8):1381–1389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Uchino BN (2006) Social support and health: a review of physiological processes potentially underlying links to disease outcomes. J Behav Med 29(4):377–387. doi: 10.1007/s10865-006-9056-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Ulrich-Lai YM, Herman JP (2009) Neural regulation of endocrine and autonomic stress responses. Nat Rev Neurosci 10(6):397–409. doi: 10.1038/nrn2647 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Vehling S, Lehmann C, Oechsle K, Bokemeyer C, Krüll A, Koch U, Mehnert A (2011) Global meaning and meaning-related life attitudes: exploring their role in predicting depression, anxiety, and demoralization in cancer patients. Support Care Cancer 19(4):513–520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Walum H, Lichtenstein P, Neiderhiser JM, Reiss D, Ganiban JM, Spotts EL, Westberg L (2012) Variation in the oxytocin receptor gene is associated with pair-bonding and social behavior. Biol Psychiatry 71(5):419–426. doi: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Welch MR, Sikkink D, Sartain E, Bond C (2004) Trust in god and trust in man: the ambivalent role of religion in shaping dimensions of social trust. J Sci Study Relig 43(3):317–343. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-5906.2004.00238.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Young LJ, Wang Z (2004) The neurobiology of pair bonding. Nat Neurosci 7(10):1048–1054CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Medical Psychology, Center for Psychosocial Medicine (ZPM)University Hospital HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany

Personalised recommendations