Prior to coming to Baylor, Maria L Boccia conducted biomedical research, studying the neuroscience of attachment and maternal & sexual behavior. In addition, she was the Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, where she taught and directed the training of Master’s students in Christian counseling. She has also held faculty appointments at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and Oklahoma Baptist University. In addition to her academic appointments, she is a licensed marriage & family therapist (MFT) in Texas and North Carolina, a Texas MFT supervisor, American Association of MFT clinical supervisor, an American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists-certified sex therapist, and a certified Christian sex therapist.
My program of research focuses on early experience, and particularly how attachment relationships and their disruption, affects social and emotional development. Earlier in my career, I studied animal models to explore these relationships, and expanded to include study of the neurobiological correlates. In particular, with my colleague Cort Pedersen, I developed a model of intergenerational transmission of individual differences in maternal and other behaviors that is mediated through changes in the oxytocin system. This model describes how experiencing different levels of maternal behavior in early life leads to continuity in not only maternal behaviors, but also other phenomena, such as depression-like behavior, in the animal models. Beginning in 2002, my research focus shifted to applying what I discovered in these animal models to human development. My current research comprises two primary themes: the role of oxytocin in mediating the effects of early experience on adult behavior and exploring the neurobiological structure of the oxytocin system by mapping oxytocin receptors in the brain. My recent research has explored the effects of early parental loss, operationalized as divorce, on later oxytocin levels and attachment styles, as well as exploring attachment to God and relating it to the effects of faith on health by examining oxytocin, which is implicated in stress responses that mediate the effects of faith on health.
Melton, K., Larson, M., & Boccia, M.L. (2019). Examining couple recreation & the release of oxytocin via the creation of family experience framework. Journal of Marriage and Family. DOI:10.1111/jomf.12556
Boccia, M.L. (2018). Is it okay if I do this? Theological reflections on the ethics of animal research. Stewardship of Creation. Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture; Baylor University, (October 24–26)
Boccia, M.L. (2017). Parental divorce effects on adult social relationships: neurobiological linkages. Presented at the annual conference of the National Council on Family Relations
I am fully on board with the mission of Baylor Pro Futuris, contributing to shaping students through transformational education to be thoughtful, engaged members of society who bring a Christian perspective to their fields of endeavor. I am especially interested in teaching critical thinking skills and encouraging my students to seriously think about how their faith integrates with their career goals and life choices.