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Oxytocin Effects on Brain Functioning in Humans

  • Sabine C. Herpertz
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Sabine C. Herpertz, M.D., Department of General Psychiatry, Center of Psychosocial Medicine, University of Heidelberg, Voßstr. 4, Heidelberg 69115, Germany.
    Affiliations
    Department of General Psychiatry, Center for Psychosocial Medicine, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.
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  • Katja Bertsch
    Affiliations
    Department of General Psychiatry, Center for Psychosocial Medicine, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.
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      The neuropeptide oxytocin has received a lot of attention in the last decade for its effects on social cognition and behavior. Evidence has been reported across species that oxytocin may increase social approach and adaptation by reducing anxiety and stress in social interactions, shifting attention from negative to positive social cues, and increasing attractiveness and trust within partnerships or in groups (
      • Shamay-Tsoory S.G.
      • Abu-Akel A.
      The social salience hypothesis of oxytocin.
      ). In human studies, oxytocin has most often been administered intranasally to a group of healthy (predominantly) male volunteers or patients with deficits in social cognition and behavior, such as autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, social phobia, or borderline personality disorder, who had to perform experimental tasks (e.g., assessing facial affect recognition, emotion processing, trust, cooperation, or empathy) (
      • Herpertz S.C.
      • Bertsch K.
      A new perspective on the pathophysiology of borderline personality disorder: A model of the role of oxytocin.
      ). The effects of oxytocin have been interpreted by comparing task performances or brain activations in the oxytocin condition with a placebo condition in either a within-subject or a group design. These studies have pointed out numerous promising effects that have generated not only large scientific interest but also attention from popular media, which started calling oxytocin the “love” or “cuddle” hormone. In addition, many review articles appeared underlining the promises these first results raised, particularly with regard to new developments of psychopharmacologic treatments for patients with severe deficits in social cognition and behavior.
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