Welcome to Neuroscience Center Zurich

Dr. Beate Ditzen



Institute of Psychology
University of Zurich
Dept of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy

Binzmühlestrasse 14 / Box 26
8050 Zurich

Tel. +41 44 635 7365

Main Goals, Keywords

Neuroendocrine Mechanisms of Stress; Stress-Coping, and their Influences on Mental and Physical Health; Social Interaction and Stress; Couple Interaction and Oxytocin; Neuroendocrinology of Real-Life Social Interactions

Group Members

1 Senior Research Associate, 1 PhD Student, 4 Master Students, 1 Intern

Previous and Current Research

Social interactions, and couple interactions in particular, are an important predictor of wellbeing, physical health and longevity. We are, therefore, interested in the mechanisms which mediate this health-protecting effect on a neuroendocrine level.

Our research focuses on observation and standardized manipulation of human couple behavior in an experimental lab context and in daily life. In order to investigate the neuroendocrine mechanisms which modulate couple behavior, we administer and measure hormones in relation to observed behavior. Also, we use stress hormone measures in order to evaluate psychological interventions on a psychobiological level.

This work has lead us to pharmacologically manipulate real-time couple behavior during a conflict interaction, by the use of the neuropeptide oxytocin as a nasal spray. In cooperation with the Dept. of Dermatology at the University Hospital Zurich, we currently investigate the effects of oxytocin on stress and wound healing.

We also analyze the natural variability in testosterone levels and cortisol in relation to stress and social interaction, thereby investigating the role of steroids in the modulation of everyday life behavior.

Future Projects

In future projects, we plan to extend our research experience in social neuroendocrine mechanisms to investigate further hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, in their relation to social interaction, and particularly couple interaction.

We further aim at combining lab and everyday life observations by the use of ecological momentary assessment.

Techniques and Equipment

In our research we use standardized behavioral stress and social interaction paradigms, such as the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), instructed real-time couple conflict, and instructed social support.

During interactions, behavior is video-taped and coded, based on published coding systems, e.g. based on the circumplex model.

Also, we monitor social cognition aspects of social behavior using eye tracking.

We administer hormones (such as oxytocin), based on standardized challenge protocols, and assess hormones (e.g. cortisol, testosterone, estrogen) and enzymes (alpha amylase) in saliva.

In collaboration with the Dept. of Dermatology at the University Hospital Zurich and Dermatology Branch at the US NIH, we have developed a suction-blister-wound model in order to investigate the associations of social interaction with psychoneuroimmunological factors (namely IL-1, IL-6, and TNF) with relevance for individual health.

In order to monitor social behavior outside of a lab context and on a micro-level basis, we use ecological momentary assessment paradigms in combination with endocrine measures in participants’ everyday lives.

Selected Publications

Selected Lectures, Seminars, or Colloquia

Spring Semester 2012 Seminar: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in selected Psychological Disorders

Continuously ongoing workgroup: Psychobiological Mechanisms of Couple Relationships and Health


Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) Grant 105314_124627 / 1



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