Acute effects of steroid hormones and neuropeptides on human social-emotional behavior: a review of single administration studies

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2012 Jan;33(1):17-35. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2011.01.002. Epub 2011 Jan 21.


Steroids and peptides mediate a diverse array of animal social behaviors. Human research is restricted by technical-ethical limitations, and models of the neuroendocrine regulation of social-emotional behavior are therefore mainly limited to non-human species, often under the assumption that human social-emotional behavior is emancipated from hormonal control. Development of acute hormone administration procedures in human research, together with the advent of novel non-invasive neuroimaging techniques, have opened up opportunities to systematically study the neuroendocrinology of human social-emotional behavior. Here, we review all placebo-controlled single hormone administration studies addressing human social-emotional behavior, involving the steroids testosterone and estradiol, and the peptides oxytocin and vasopressin. These studies demonstrate substantial hormonal control over human social-emotional behavior and give insights into the underlying neural mechanisms. Finally, we propose a theoretical model that synthesizes detailed knowledge of the neuroendocrinology of social-emotional behavior in animals with the recently gained data from humans described in our review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Arginine Vasopressin / physiology
  • Emotions / drug effects*
  • Empathy / drug effects
  • Estradiol / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Object Attachment
  • Oxytocin / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Perception
  • Testosterone / physiology*
  • Vasopressins / physiology*


  • Vasopressins
  • Arginine Vasopressin
  • Testosterone
  • Estradiol
  • Oxytocin