Mechanisms, Mediators, and Adaptive Consequences of Caregiving
This essay describes neurobiological and neuroendocrine mechanisms that are implicated in human caregiving. Anatomical and biochemical systems that first appeared in the evolutionary transition from reptiles to mammals allowed the emergence of mammalian sociality. Human behaviors are characterized by symbiotic and reciprocal interactions, which are necessary for successful caregiving. The autonomic nervous system, and especially the mammalian changes in the parasympathetic system, provides an essential neural platform for social behavior. Especially critical to coordinating the features of positive sociality are neuropeptides including oxytocin and vasopressin. These neuropeptides modulate the mammalian autonomic nervous system to foster the expression of social behaviors and, when adaptive, defensive behaviors. Oxytocin, the same peptide that regulates various aspects of mammalian reproduction including birth, lactation and maternal behavior, is also involved in the beneficial and reciprocal effects of caregiving on physiology, behavior and health.
Keywords: arginine vasopressin, autonomic nervous system, brainstem, cardiovascular, cortisol or corticosterone, corticotropin releasing factor, emotion, endocrinology, evolution, dorsal vagal complex, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, heart rate variability, hormones, maternal behavior, monogamy, myelinated vagus, neuroanatomy, neurobiology, neuroception, nucleus ambiguus, norepinephrine, oxytocin, polyvagal theory, post traumatic stress disorder, paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, reciprocity, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, sex differences, social attachment, social behavior, social bonding, social cognition, social communication, social engagement system, social monogamy, steroids, stress, symbiosis, umyelinated vagus, ventral vagal complex
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