Combining oxytocin and cognitive bias modification training in a randomized controlled trial: Effects on trust in maternal support

M.W.F.T. Verhees, M.H. van IJzendoorn, M.J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, E. Ceulemans, S. de Winter, T. Santens, K. Alaerts, K. Casteels, E. Salemink, J. Verhaeghe, G. Bosmans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background and objectives: Research on the social effects of intranasal oxytocin in children is scarce. Oxytocin has been proposed to have clearer beneficial effects when added to social learning paradigms. The current study tested this proposition in middle childhood by assessing effects of cognitive bias modification (CBM) training and oxytocin on trust in maternal support.

Methods: Children (N = 100, 8–12 years) were randomly assigned to one of two training conditions: CBM training aimed at increasing trust or neutral placebo training. Within each training condition, half the participants received oxytocin and half a placebo. Main and interaction effects were assessed on measures of trust-related interpretation bias and trust. We explored whether child characteristics moderated intervention effects.

Results: Children in the CBM training were faster to interpret maternal behaviour securely versus insecurely. Effects did not generalize to interpretation bias measures or trust. There were no main or interaction effects of oxytocin. Exploratory moderation analyses indicated that combining CBM training with oxytocin had less positive effects on trust for children with more internalizing problems.

Limitations: As this was the first study combining CBM and oxytocin, replication of the results is needed.

Conclusions: This study combined a social learning paradigm with oxytocin in children. CBM training was effective at an automatic level of processing. Oxytocin did not enhance CBM effects or independently exert effects. Research in larger samples specifying when oxytocin might have beneficial effects is necessary before oxytocin can be used as intervention option in children.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101514
Pages (from-to)1-9
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Oxytocin
  • Cognitive bias modification
  • Trust
  • Attachment
  • Middle childhood
  • Randomized controlled trial


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