Maria Boccia, Ph.D.

Maria Boccia, Ph.D.
Interim Associate Chair, Graduate Program Director for HSD, Professor of Child and Family Studies
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Interim Associate Chair

Graduate Program Director for HSD

Professor in Child and Family Studies

Child and Family Studies


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.


  • Post-doctoral fellow, developmental psychology, Denver University, Denver, CO
  • Ph.D., Zoology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  • D.Min., Marriage & Family Therapy, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC
  • MA, New Testament, Denver Seminary, Denver, CO


  • Texas Marriage and Family Therapist, license No. 202684, since 12/04/2015.
  • Texas Marriage and Family Therapy Supervisor, license No. 202684, since 08/2016.
  • North Carolina Marriage and Family Therapist, license No. 1168, since 8/25/2006.
  • North Carolina Licensed Professional Counselor, License No. 5387, since 3/26/2007.
  • American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Approved Supervisor, No. 103232, since 6/2010.
  • Certified Sex Therapist, American Society of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, since 10/2/2006
  • Certified Christian Sex Therapist, American Board of Christian Sex Therapists, Cert No. 128, since 10/15/2007


  • American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences
  • American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
  • American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists
  • American Board of Christian Sex Therapists
  • International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health
  • National Council on Family Relations
  • Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology
  • Texas Association of Marriage & Family Therapists

Area(s) of Teaching:

  • Family transitions, stress, and resilience, at undergraduate and graduate levels
  • Human development and family science at the graduate level
  • Research methods at the undergraduate level

Area(s) of Research:

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.

Selected Publications/Honors:

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

NIH also maintains an accessible on-line bibliography, which may be found here:

What teaching at Baylor means to me:

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.