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PSYC321 Special Topic: Biological Basis of Attachment Behaviour

Biopsychological mechanisms underpinning social attachment behaviour in animals and humans.

What does it mean to be emotionally attached to another individual? As humans we feel deep attachments to our parents, our children, our romantic partners and our friends, but these behaviours have much deeper roots than ourselves and rely on specialised brain systems that evolved millions of years before our species. This paper takes a comparative approach to understanding the processes that underlie attachment behaviour, reviewing foundational studies in non-human animal social behaviour and brain function and critically examining how these studies have informed and enlarged our understanding of attachment behaviour in humans.

Paper title Special Topic: Biological Basis of Attachment Behaviour
Paper code PSYC321
Subject Psychology
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period First Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,038.45
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $4,492.80

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PSYC 210 and PSYC 211 and PSYC 212
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Science
Dr Irene Ballagh,
Teaching staff
Lecturer: Dr Irene Ballagh
There is no prescribed textbook. Required course readings will be available through Blackboard.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Scholarship, Lifelong learning, Critical Thinking, Communication, Research, Information Literacy.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students who successfully complete the paper will:
  • Understand the relationship between social attachment behaviour and hypothalamic neuropeptides and how animal models of these behaviours inform human studies.
  • Learn how to critically analyse primary research articles and reviews in human and non-human behavioural literature.
  • Be able to explain and communicate scientific findings and theories in a clear and accessible format.
  • Be able to identify a critical gap in scientific literature and design a research plan for addressing this controversy.
With departmental approval, a student who has achieved a grade of at least B+ in each of PSYC 210 and 212 may take no more than one of PSYC 313-327 concurrently with PSYC 211.

With departmental approval, a student who has achieved a grade of at least B+ in PSYC 211 may take no more than one of PSYC 313-327 concurrently with PSYC 210 and 212.
Paper Structure
Structure and Key Topics of the Paper:

Definition of attachment behaviour
The Social Brain Network and Nonapeptides

Module 1: Pair Bonding and Fidelity
Pair bonding in voles and songbirds
Vasopressin and human fidelity

Module 2: Parent-child imprinting and parental care
Imprinting in mammals and birds
Maternal and paternal care in rodents
Oxytocin and post-partum depression

Module 3: Group affiliation and social preferences
Social recognition in rodents and domestic dogs
Nonapeptides and affiliation preferences
Oxytocin and trust behaviour
Nonapeptides and autism spectrum disorders
Teaching Arrangements
One 2-hour lecture and one 1-hour per week

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First Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
L1 Monday 14:00-15:50 9-13, 15-22
Wednesday 15:00-15:50 9-13, 15-16, 18-22